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GUEST COLUMN: Where were you when the lights went out?

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Nadine Wark

There are defining moments in our lives when we can vividly recall what we were doing at a particular time; Aug. 14, 2003 was one of those moments.

The day became known as Blackout 2003 when the lights did, indeed, go out, affecting 50 million U.S. and Canadian residents. In Ontario alone, 10 million were affected.

Three transmission lines in a generating plant in Ohio had a sudden shift in power flow setting off a chain reaction, with lines circling both U.S. and Canadian soil. Transportation in many places came to a halt and water systems lost pressure as pumps had no power, resulting in boil advisories. A total of 22 nuclear plants were shut down in Canada and the U.S. The repercussions from the blackout lasted from a few days to several weeks; a hardship for industries and businesses starting up again.

Many people were frustrated having no access to TV or computers, however, it was an opportunity to actually communicate by talking or playing board games. Neighbours got to know one another as the barbecues came out and food from the freezers was shared. The IGA Foodland in Corunna was said to have fed the entire village!

My sister and her husband were driving on Highway 401 with family from the U.K., just starting their vacation. Arriving in Sarnia, they faced huge lineups at stores and cash registers came to a halt with people leaving empty-handed! They needed diapers and formula for a baby and toddler and fortunately, Bluewater Health came to the rescue and provided what was needed for the visitors.

My family was vacationing at a cottage, when late afternoon the entire lake lost hydro. With food, water, candles and flashlights, we suffered no real hardship. On our way home the next morning, we witnessed huge lineups at gas stations, as the fuel pumps were not working or the supply was exhausted.

We arrived home in Sarnia to find hydro had been off in our area for just a few hours, but other areas were not so fortunate. I could only imagine the hardships faced by commuters in the big cities like New York, with the subways and elevators not in working order.

A friend of mine described a pleasant, solitary experience … hardly any traffic on the usually busy Colborne Road, blackness all around with an ‘other-worldly’ feel. He lived in the moment, sipping his wine, while stargazing and enjoying the solitude.

Could it happen again? The experts say yes. I’m thinking next time might be for a different reason…like people not being able to afford their electricity bills!

Nadine Wark is a retired office worker and freelance writer who resides in Sarnia


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