Watch our report from Aug. 14, 2003 when the city lost power as part of a blackout that spread across the Northeast. Ida Siegal reports.
About 50 million people lost power 10 years ago on Aug. 14, 2003, when a tree branch in Ohio started an outage that cascaded across a broad swath from Michigan to New York City and Canada.
Commuters in New York City and elsewhere had to sleep on steps, hitchhike or walk home as trains were rendered powerless and gas pumps stopped working; food spoiled as refrigerators and freezers thawed; jugs of water sold out as supply plants lost their ability to supply consumers; minds were set to wandering about terrorism fears less than two years after 9/11.
On Wednesday, the 10-year anniversary, New Yorkers recalled their experiences when the lights went out:
Marsha Granton of Bushwick, Brooklyn, says "it was hectic, it was chaotic." She had no way to get home from Manhattan, and refused to walk over any of the bridges.
"People started walking over the bridge," she said. "I was like, 'I'm not walking.'"
Jim Lewis didn't even try to go home -- he stayed at his office, sleeping on the floor in a conference room. He recalls paying $65 for a pizza as some businesses took advantage of the emergency and raised their prices.
"It was an experience," he says.
Stephanie Korkokis recalls a certain celebratory vibe as people gave up trying to get home to the outer boroughs.
"Everybody started drinking, you could see at the bars everybody having an extra drink -- it was cool, in a way."
Joan Vollero lived in Manhattan near the children's television company where she was working when the lights went out. So she extended an invitation to colleagues wrestling with how to get to homes farther away.
"I didn't realize how many people were going to take me up on that offer," Vollero recalled.
A band of co-workers — some of whom she barely knew — joined her at the small sixth-floor, three-bedroom walk-up she shared with two roommates. One colleague felt faint and needed a bed, so Vollero gave up hers.
"I remember it being a fun night — not a crazy night," says Vollero, now a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney. "It was co-workers coming together in difficult circumstances and making the best of the situation."