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Paula Tutman recalls covering 2003 Blackout: ‘Nobody has power, who are we talking to?'

2003 Blackout map.
2003 Blackout map. (WDIV)

Friday marks the 17th anniversary of the 2003 Northeast Blackout, which knocked out power to more than 50 million, including here in Metro Detroit. Local 4′s Paula Tutman recalls the event:

Oh my Gosh, it HAS been 17 years, hasn’t it? I remember the big blackout so well for a variety of reasons, but in terms of ‘where were you when it happened...’

I was on Woodward getting ready for a live shot on the Dream Cruise.  A man walked up and tapped on the window of the live truck and said, “The street lights are out!”  I was on deadline and very annoyed that someone was interrupting my work to talk about a ‘street light’. I said, “Yeah, okay.  Got it,” and kept working.

When I stepped out of the livetruck and onto Woodward, I could see it wasn't a single street light, but the whole darned avenue.  That's when we started hearing from the studio that there was a major blackout and NOBODY had power.

I have no idea how they did it, but somehow, our engineers got the transmitter up and working and we were instructed to start going live.  We were doing what we call, wall-to-wall coverage.  Reporters giving updates from wherever they are, as it's happening.  And after about an hour of back to back to back liveshots, I had just done a live hit and IT hit me.  I said to my photographer, "Nobody has power.  Who the Hell are we talking to?"

I called the studio, and asked that question and was told that there might be people, "out there in pockets with power and we were talking to them."

Gotcha.

So we kept talking to the cameras. As we wrapped up our liveshots, my photographer and I started driving south on Woodward and noticed there was a Chicken Shack that was open. It was packed. We pulled over to check it out because no other businesses or food establishments seemed to be open, but they were--and they were doing a booming business. We pulled over to find out how this was possible and found out that the franchise, almost instantaneously, had pulled in generators to keep cooking for its big locations.

We stopped right there... set back up and did a live shot and then I ordered a broasted chicken dinner to go with BBQ sauce.

As I walked back to my livetruck a woman in a pick-up with her feet on the dash, waved her half-eaten drumstick out the window and said, “Hey, I just saw you on TV.” I asked her how--and she showed me her battery operated television.

Question answered. Who the Hell was watching us during a massive power outage? I laughed and said, ‘You’re the one.”


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