Toronto, ON — Aug. 15, 2003 — Although many companies in several industries called on emergency back-up systems to get through yesterday’s power outage — the largest in North America since Nov. 9, 1965 — the impact for several was somewhat limited because of summer holiday shutdowns or reduced operating schedules. The blackout affected a 15,000-sq-km stretch of land in the north-eastern U.S. and much of Ontario.
Back in ’65, a massive electric power failure blacked out much of southern Ontario and the north-eastern United States, disrupting life for about 25 million people. There was another similar, though not as extensive, outage in 1977. Yesterday’s blackout, which began at 4:15 p.m. eastern time, affected much of the same area and is reported to have affected as many as 50 million people.
An ice storm in eastern Ontario and most of Quebec in January 1998, also affected thousands of people and businesses. The extended period of recovery from that outage meant that many industries had beefed up their emergency back-up systems.
Not all companies fared well during yesterday’s outage, though.
In the midst of the power outage, a fire broke out in the No. 3 coke plant of Dofasco Inc. in Hamilton, Ont. It was attributed to the power loss. Dofasco’s critical steel-making operations were backed up by diesel generators, said spokesman Gord Forstner. As a result, molten steel in mid-production was not allowed to harden and result in costly downtime.
Some workers at Dofasco became stuck in aerial cranes, but there was a procedure in place to get them down.
At Ford Canada’s assembly plant in Oakville, Ont., the third shift that starts at 4:30 in the afternoon was sent home for the day, according to spokesperson Lauren More. Ford is still ramping up with production of its new Freestar minivan. The single daily shift at the nearby Oakville truck plant had already finished for the day and two other Ontario plants were on scheduled shutdown.
It was reported that more than 30 other auto assembly plants — including those operated by General Motors — were idled by the power outage, and were to remain closed Friday.
A huge plume of fire began rising shortly after the start of the power outage from a tall emissions stack at the Oakville-Burlington Petro-Canada plant, possibly due to the failure of control systems because of the outage. Occasionally, the stack would emit giant black and red fireballs. Well into the evening, smoke could be seen drifting over Lake Ontario.
As well, eight chemical plants in Sarnia were spewing hydrocarbons into the air because their venting systems had shut down.
Ontario Premier Ernie Eves declared the entire province in a state of emergency and asked industries to shut down to reduce demand on the system.