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August Heatwave of 2003

This day in history was a bad day for heat and power outages. August 14, 2003 was a day that many people will remember for a long time to come. Most of the eastern seaboard from New Jersey to parts of Michigan and even parts of Canada had lost power for at least two hours. Most had lost power for longer than that, up to twenty-four hours. It was a particularly hot August day and even Europe was in the middle of a heat wave, with France being hard hit the most with temperatures reaching 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

The power outages began about 4 PM on this day and within three minutes of the outage, twenty-one power plants shut down. Most of the eastern Amtrak train service was shut down because their engines run on electricity. Cellular phone service as interrupted, elevators had shut down and the subway system in New York City as shut down and took more than two hours to rescue people who were trapped in stalled subway cars. Small businesses took a huge hit as well as they lost their refrigerated products.

At first, everyone thought it was a terrorist attack which was seemingly possible after being two years out of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Canada blamed the United States and the United States blamed Canada but when the two countries conducted a joint investigation, they found the source to be an Ohio company called FirstEnergy Corporation. It was there Eastlake plant that caused all of the outage problems when their power lines came in contact with some trees that caused a lot of problems, triggering the series of outages. The company was criticized for their poor line maintenance and was also condemned for failing to recognize the problem before it became as widespread as it did.

In France, it is estimated on this day that more than three thousand people had died so far from the heat wave that as currently hitting them. Doctors were called back from holiday by the French government and a lot of dead bodies had to be stored in refrigerated warehouses as the mortuaries ere all full. A lot of families could not be notified because they were on holiday as well. France, especially in the northern areas were not used to dealing with such high temperatures and most homes that were fifty years old or older were not equipped with air conditioning and it was the elderly that suffered the most. These parts of France usually had cool nights but the unrelenting heat continued through the nights as well and when it was all said and done, France had suffered with the loss of over 14,000 heat related deaths and that is not counting other parts of southern Europe that was affected by the heat wave.

August 2003 was a problematic and deadly month for thousands of people and will live on in infamy for many years to come.

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