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There is little air-conditioning in private dwellings in Paris because much of it was built before any existed. In any case, weather conditions are seldom extreme. Very few remember the terrible heatwave of 1947, and 1976 was characterized more by a long drought than excessive heat.

Cool glasses of water are available at thousands of cafés and restaurants for the asking. Usage of ice in water is not common, and consumers who are not used to it may ask for it to be removed if it is added automatically - as it sometimes is.

Blackout of the Year

It was almost a nice-enough day to go to Coney Island on Thursday, 14. August. But at 16:09 all electricity stopped, halting all subways, elevators, traffic lights, refrigeration units and air conditioners in the United States' eight northeastern states and parts of Canada. Fifty million people were without power.

For me, in an un-air-conditioned apartment, it meant that the temperature stayed in the mid-80s along with the humidity. The fans, in such short supply in Paris, stopped blowing damp air around. With the power off, there was no way to receive the Café Metropole Club report from Linda 'Cools' Thalman.

Outside the apartment, most noise stopped along with the air-conditioners. With traffic lights blank, drivers drovephoto: p j clarkes, blackout party zone carefully instead of beeping at each other. Prudently, banks closed and less prudently, ATMs stopped dispensing cash. Planes continued to land at La Guardia and JFK airports, but all takeoffs were cancelled.

When TV returned on Friday, it showed a big party outside this Manhattan bar during the blackout.

After dark residents descended from their apartments and passed the evening sitting outside, accompanied by candles, picnics, some warm drinks and with a few transistor radios. A solo saxophonist in the next block gave a 90-minute concert consisting of well-known New York tunes.

We weren't the only lucky. In darkened hospitals and clinics, about 93 babies were born. Others, not so lucky, had to find their way out of 225 subway trains stranded in tunnels, but with the assistance of MTA workers and firemen, no one was seriously injured.

Many other people were extracted from 800 stalled elevators in New York City buildings. Traffic jams in Manhattan and other boroughs were tremendous, with 11,000 traffic lights out of operation. Without subways, the number of workers who walked home was uncountable. Some 200,000 rode to Staten Island and New Jersey on ferries instead of subways and trains.

Firefighters put out 60 serious fires, many started by candles. NYPD had 10,000 officers of the streets, and emergency services responded to 80,000 calls, 5000 of them medical.

Despite dire predictions, crimes were no more than usual for a 24-hour weekday period in August, and cases of looting were rare. City buses kept running, but stopped charging for rides. According the Daily News, the event's biggest ripoff were $400 car-service fares from Manhattan to Queens.

Many people, stranded in Manhattan, partied the whole night through - as long as their cash held out. Manyphoto: new york daily news, lights on visitors were out of luck though, because the hotels they had booked had no elevators to lift them to their rooms. Thousands of people slept on the sidewalks or in parks, under starry skies seldom seen in New York.

Many shops were closed on Friday, so I didn't see the 'lights out' edition of this newspaper.

Early radio reports suggested the power outage had been caused by lightning striking something vital at Canada's power generating facilities at Niagra Falls. Later reports shifted the blame to the US side of the twin waterfalls. Hours later blame was focused on two GM plants in Ohio, or some fallen power line on Cleveland.

In either case, listeners were reminded that since the last big blackout in 1977, not all good electrical resolutions had been carried out - and anyway, since then - deregulation had unhinged some plans.

Early on, radio reported that President Bush said the country hadn't been attacked by terrorists. Then many 'experts' suggested that terrorists could get some ideas from the blackout, because causing one would be easy. They did not mention what benefits terrorists might get from one. But US Air Force fighters patrolled over the city in any case.

The power was still out on Friday morning. Mayor Bloomberg invited many workers to take the day off. Radio reports began warnings about consuming food that had thawed out due to a lack of refrigeration. Shop and restaurant operators were told to throw everything out. On Thursday night, some of it had been given away, especially ice cream.

On Friday some smaller shops cautiously opened, and long lines formed at the few gas stations that had regained power to run their pumps. A nearby supermarket with electric doors, let in customers in small groups. Presumably all sales were for cash.

City beaches were ordered closed on Friday because of untreated sewage dumped into the East River. This spoiled weekend plans for many, but the beaches were declared safe again on Wednesday.

Electricity returned to the city in a spotty fashion. During the night of Friday some power came back in parts ofphoto: new world coffee the Bronx and in parts of lower Manhattan and in New Jersey. Later in the morning it resumed piecemeal, but wasn't fully restored in New York until about 25 hours after the blackout started, at about 17:45 on Friday. The full roar of tens of thousands of air-conditioning units returned.

In Manhattan, the 'new world.'

Subway service was back to near-full operation by late Saturday, but it took until Monday to clear stranded passengers out of the airports. With traffic lights again in operation, drivers resumed honking at each other and buses resumed charging for rides.

Online Weather Warnings

We are easing out of the height of summer now. It seems to be going about it about far more sunnily than in past years instead of commencing September's dreary rains. The alert service of France-Météo's is very short-term. Its level '3' and '4' warnings are changed to colors for TV presentation, with orange indicating 'beware,' but level 4's red is seldom shown.

Mainly these warnings will about areas beyond the area of the Ile-de-France. But summer is summer and even Paris is not completely immune to passing storms. I was away during the two-week heatwave so I don't know how France-Météo advertised it.

If you are curious or need to know more about France's late summer weather, give the Météo France Web site a hit, for its short-range forecasts.

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