Worlds’s Worst Power Outages

National Geographic remembers the world’s worst power outages.

  1. Northeastern U.S. and Canada, 1965- The “great Northeast blackout” began when a power surge near Ontario set off a chain of failures across New York State and beyond. The blackout spanned the course of 80,000 square miles. In only four minutes, the darkness fell across Massachusetts all the way to Boston.

2. India, 2012- India’s massive power failures occurred on July 30th & 31st. They were unprecedented in size and left 670 million people without electricity across the nation’s north and east. Before the power was restored on August 1st. about half of all India’s residents were left in the dark by a rolling blackout. The ultimate source of trouble was a predictable one. India’s power structure is often unable to meet peak power demands.

3. Europe, 2006- In November of 2006, during the Norwegian Pearl’s departure down the River Ems, the ship indirectly caused a two-hour power outage for 10 million people on the evening of November 4. The German power company E. turned off a 380,000-volt line over the river so that the ship could pass safely and easily beneath it on its way to the North Sea. The dead line quickly increased pressures elsewhere in the German power grid and sparked a chair reaction of blackouts across parts of Germany, France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, and Croatia.


4. New York, 1977- This massive blackout in NYC unfortunately lead to some vigilante behavior. The lightning-sparked outage lasted July 13th & 14th but left 9 million New Yorkers without power. During this time, arsonists torched buildings like the one below on Marmion Ave in the Bronx. In total they set a reported 1,000 fires. Thieves and rioters also ran loose and trashed about 1,600 stores around NYC.


5. Northeastern U.S. and Canada (Part 2), 2003- On August 15t, 2003, nearly 50 million people were left without power for as long as two days in southeastern Canada and the Northeastern US. It crippled many trains and stranded numerous travelers causing a mass of commutes to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. The U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force came to the conclusion that equipment failures and human error had combined to cause the blackout, which started with power lines shut down after contact with tress.

6. Hunan Province, China, 2008- This blackout was caused by historic winter storms that took out an electrical tower and other parts of the grid in China’s southern Hunan province back in February 2008. In Chenzhou, about 4.5 million people were without power for nearly two weeks. In addition, 11 electricians has already lost their lives at the time the below picture was taken while they attempted to repair infrastructure.

7. Brazil & Paraguay, 2009- On November 10, 2009, the power supply dried up at the enormous hydroelectric works at the Itaipu Dam. As a result, 67 million people were left incomplete darkness. The picture below is of pedestrians attempting to cross the busy street in the dark. The cause of the blackout was due to storms which had short-circuited several vital transformers, completely cutting off power from the largest hydroelectric source in the world. The blackout caused about 1/3 of all Brazilians to lose power for four hours and all of Paraguay saw suspended service for a short period of time.


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2 Responses to “Worlds’s Worst Power Outages”

  1. 1 jumpforjoyphotoproject August 30, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    I was there during this storm:

    The North American Ice Storm of 1998 (also known as Great Ice Storm of 1998 and Great Ice Storm ’98) was a massive combination of five smaller successive ice storms which combined to strike a relatively narrow swath of land from eastern Ontario to southern Quebec to Nova Scotia in Canada, and bordering areas from northern New York to central Maine in the United States, in January 1998.

    It caused massive damage to trees and electrical infrastructure all over the area, leading to widespread long-term power outages. Millions were left in the dark for periods varying from days to weeks, leading to more than 30 fatalities, a shut down of activities in large cities like Montreal and Ottawa, and an unprecedented effort in reconstruction of the power grid.

    The ice storm led to the largest deployment of Canadian Military personnel since the Korean War, with over 15,000 Canadian Forces personnel deployed in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick at the height of the crisis.

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