Residents of developed countries are lucky enough to simply flip a switch and have their world illuminated — until a blackout hits. It can happen anywhere at any time, with consequences ranging from the inconvenient to the downright catastrophic.
Don’t wait until you’re powerless to prepare for blackouts. And thanks to new, renewable power sources, a gas generator isn’t your only backup option anymore. Not convinced you need to be ready? Perhaps 10 of the worst blackouts of all time will persuade you:
Picture a sweltering day in NYC on July 13, 1977. You’re anxious because of the rising crime, declining economy and the Son of Sam still on the loose — when suddenly you lose power. It goes dark for 25 hours. With the air conditioning not working, you open the window, only to see buildings set aflame as looters and arsonists take to the streets to destroy and steal from thousands of homes and local businesses. Being afraid of the dark took on an entirely new meaning that day, with the resulting damages totaling more than $300 million.
Interestingly, the 1977 blackout wasn’t the first NYC experienced: A 13-hour outage in 1965 was even more widespread after a 230-kilovolt transmission line was tripped at a Niagara Falls generating station in Ontario. While it was relatively void of looting and arson, New Yorkers experienced a different kind of terror when 800,000 people were trapped underground on the subway. The darkness spread through the Northeast U.S., Ontario and Quebec.
In 2003, according to Power Technology, this region was met with darkness yet again when a high-voltage power line in Ohio shut down after making contact with overgrown trees. It’s amazing how one seemingly run-of-the-mill occurrence led to a domino effect that left 50 million people without power for two days — oh, and there were $6 billion in damages.
Blackouts aren’t just caused by power line disruptions; they can also be caused by the sun. On March 13, 1989, our beloved yellow dwarf emitted enormous ionized gas clouds likened to, according to Mental Floss, “the energy of thousands of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time.” With this scale in mind, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that 6 million Quebecois went without power for 12 hours.
Moving across the globe to Thailand, failed generators at the South Pranakhorn Powerplant led to a loss of electricity not only in local Samut Prakan, but across the entire country. The darkness lasted for more than nine hours and left 40 million people powerless — literally.
In January 2001, the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh experienced a 12-hour blackout due to a local substation failure. The damage was striking: Approximately 226 million people were affected, while $107.1 million in business was lost.
More than 100 million people — about half of Indonesia’s population — were left without electricity for 11 hours when a transmission line in the Java-Bali power grid failed. Power was fully restored within 24 hours, though transportation and flights were delayed and canceled.
Due to a lightning strike that led to a domino effect of power plant outages, about 97 million people were without power during a blackout that lasted five hours. Major cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro went dark, and 60,000 people were stranded in Rio’s subway.
On Sept. 28, 2003, storm damage to an electricity line running from Switzerland to Italy led to almost all of the country’s 57 million residents being affected — some for up to 18 hours. Among those affected, 30,000 people found themselves stranded as 110 trains ground to a halt.
Enough darkness for you? Don’t think twice before investing in a backup system — one you may not realize you need until you’re lighting candles on every end table.