August 16, 2003
Detroit Sweats While It Waits for Electricity
ETROIT, Aug. 15 — As power was restored throughout most of the Northeast, this city sweated through its second day without lights, air conditioners and, in many cases, even drinking water. Officials estimated that parts of the electrical system here would remain down through the weekend.
Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm of Michigan declared a state of emergency in five counties, and sent thousands of gallons of water and gasoline, along with state police officers and some National Guardsmen, to metropolitan Detroit from across the state. Detroit's police chief, Jerry Oliver, promised that the city would aggressively enforce an 11 p.m. curfew for anyone 16 or younger.
By 9 p.m., officials at
"The party has to happen in your homes tonight," the mayor said at an afternoon news conference outside police headquarters in the eerily quiet and empty downtown. "Continue your family time. Love thy neighbor — in your own home, your own neighborhood."
Thrilled that the number of arrests was at a typical level through the first 24 hours of the nation's worst blackout, Detroit officials said the weekend would serve as a referendum on Mayor Kilpatrick's leadership and on his efforts to rehabilitate Detroit's reputation, from that of a city decimated by violence and poverty to that of a cultural hub with a revitalized economy.
"Either the people of this city believe in this city's future and are going to rally around this mayor or they're not," said Michael Duggan, the county prosecutor, who stood with Mr. Kilpatrick and Mr. Oliver at the news conference.
Although city officials said there had been virtually no violence or looting Thursday night or Friday, Mr. Duggan issued a stern warning to residents of a city still scarred from the riots of the 1960's. Noting that civil disobedience felonies carry a 10-year prison term, Mr. Duggan added, "Before you pick up a brick and throw it, before you tip over a car, before you take a TV, you better ask yourself, is this worth 10 years of my life?"
Elsewhere in the Midwest, Gov. Bob Taft of Ohio declared a state of emergency in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, where an order to boil the city's water was in effect through Sunday, though power had been restored by midafternoon to nearly all the 1.5 million area residents who had lost it and to the city's four water pumping stations. In Akron, power was restored in all but a four-block area by 11 a.m., and the mayor sent water and engineers to help Cleveland. Neighboring Cuyahoga Falls, population 50,000, never lost power.
"It was almost like when you land in Las Vegas and see all the lights," the mayor, Don Robart, said of driving home to Cuyahoga Falls from Akron, in a telephone call to National Public Radio. "It was nice to come home to."
In Melvindale, Mich., a Detroit suburb, 2,000 people were shut out of their homes until 1:35 p.m., after an explosion at an oil refinery on Thursday night caused by a buildup of pressure inside a boiler. It appeared unrelated to the blackout but compounded the misery.
Across the region the blackout caused all sorts of disruptions and inconvenience and prompted a variety of improvised remedies.
At St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., Robert
courier, got stuck in traffic while trying to pick up platelets for a
cancer patient. He borrowed a bicycle and a helmet and made the
eight-mile trip. Meanwhile, Grace Elizabeth, the second child of Carrie
Lint, a nurse practitioner at the hospital, would not wait for
electricity to be restored before she entered the world.
Also in Ann Arbor, 48 cars and trucks waited outside Malleks, the lone gas station functioning this morning, courtesy of a generator the owner had bought a few years ago, anticipating computer disasters at the start of 2000.
Three plumbers and pipe fitters in town for a training session were waiting to fill a rental car, while an Anglican priest in a sport utility vehicle sought gasoline for his generator to protect his son, who needed stable temperatures. "We have to have air conditioning for him, or he'll have multiple seizures," the priest, Doug Carson, said. The generator also saved 25 salmon in his freezer.
All along Interstate 94, gasoline stations and hotels were overrun, with dozens of cars and motor homes blocking offramps, as people fled the darkened areas. Nearly 150 miles from Detroit in Kalamazoo, which never lost power, the Amoco on Sprinkle Road received several calls from people heading to Chicago from Detroit asking whether they could stop there for gasoline. Eight crates of 99-cent gallons of water had sold out this morning at the station.
In Chelsea, Mich., a town of 4,300 about 50 miles west of Detroit, two of the three stations ran out of gasoline long before noon, and by lunchtime the third, an Amoco station, had sold 10,000 gallons more than its daily norm of 2,000. But three pumps had stopped working, and a fourth was acting up, too.
"We've got plenty of gas in the ground, I don't know what the problem is," said the manager, whose name tag read Barb. "The pumps are just worn out. They're tired."
At least they had power. Here in Detroit, residents were still stuck deep in emergency mode, scratching for a patch of shade as they gobbled the melting ice cream being given away at convenience stores.
Mayor Kilpatrick said at the afternoon news conference that the city had 210,000 bottles of water, 53,000 gallons of gasoline and 83,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and that the sewage treatment plant was running again.
"Detroit, you can flush the toilet," he said.
City workers had visited the 1,200 elderly people living in six public housing buildings, bearing water and helping them up stairs, he said.
Mr. Oliver, the police chief, described the mood on the city streets as "calm — not serene, but calm." There were 118 arrests for felonies and seven for misdemeanors, but there was little looting, he said. Those arrested included 15 juveniles.
Throughout the quiet streets of downtown this afternoon,
wherever they could find a patch of shade, trying not to move much in
the humidity. At the
"You would think everyone would stick together after Sept. 11 stuff, everyone holding hands and hugging," said Martin Hale, 33, who lives on the East Side and waited two hours to fill his tank. "That's just right out the window. Everybody out for themselves."
Throughout the afternoon, lights began to flicker on sporadically. The MGM Grand Casino's billboard flashed "Big Arm Challenge." Some traffic lights began to work normally, while others were still flashing red, requiring four-way stops. Mayor Kilpatrick said there were just 52 traffic accidents, far fewer than on a normal Friday, because most people stayed off the streets.
In Greektown, where the casino was shuttered for the first time since its opening in 1999, Gregory Alexander was surprised when the lights and air conditioning suddenly came on in his flower shop, in time to keep his roses from frying. He quickly ran a 100-foot extension cord across the street to try to save the freezer at the Yaka Café, and then kick-start the sump pump in the flooded basement of the New Parthenon restaurant, but there was not enough power.
"I have no idea why we have power," Mr. Alexander said. "We just got it. So I'm sharing it with my neighbors."
Though DTE Energy said this morning that it did not expect power to be back on until Sunday night, the grid returned, bit by bit, throughout the day. About 130,000 customers had lights when they woke up. By noon, the number was 330,000. By 5 p.m., 700,000; by 7 p.m., 1.2 million and by 9 p.m., 1.5 million.
In St. Clair Shores, a resort community about 20 miles northeast of here, that meant the Saturday evening wedding of Eric Herman and Lisa Tarsi was canceled, and then uncanceled.
"We've got so many candles at our wedding, the lighting was going to be fine," said Mr. Herman, who had scrambled to find generators for the food and music, all for naught after power returned this afternoon. Thursday's rehearsal dinner for 50, though, was scrapped.
"Instead we just bought pizza and subs and came back to our house," he said. "We just realized you have to make do with what you have."