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The Boston Globe

Magazine

Anatomy of a blackout: August 14, 2003

Just how interconnected is our grid? Interconnected enough that the largest blackout in North America’s history – one that left 50 million people without power – could essentially start when a single tree branch touches a single power line.

3:05 PM > In northeastern Ohio, a line carrying 345,000 volts touches a tree limb the utility company had neglected to trim. After a flash of sparks, safety equipment automatically kills the electricity.

3:39 > The first of 16 high-voltage lines in the Akron area trips. Since electricity can’t be turned off like water from a spigot, lines overheat, sag, then hit more branches and trip.

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