NJ.com Weblog

Top Star-Ledger stories from Friday, Aug. 15, 2003.

Friday, August 15, 2003

The mood: Confusion stoked fears of attack


Rochelle Powell was scared.

The little screen on her cell phone read ''CALL FAILED.'' Sirens wailed from all directions. Hundreds of cars jammed Broad Street in Newark's rush hour, going nowhere.

She looked up at the sky. ''I was thinking that when it gets dark, with the power out, it'd be a fine time for terrorists to attack,'' she said, her eyes wide and her mouth drawn into in a tight line.

That's how it was, during the first hour or two of a massive blackout yesterday afternoon. Not everyone was scared, but everyone was confused.

With radio, TV, and many phone lines down, no one knew what was going on.

Around 4:15 p.m. yesterday lights flickered, computer screens went black, phone lines went out, assembly lines halted, and ATMs froze in the middle of transactions. Traffic lights blinked off, and electronic ticket kiosks at the airports shut down.

In a state still tender from 9/11 and stung by fresh reports of terrorist plots, the power outrage stoked fears that the worst was about to happen.


The blackout hit more than 1 million power customers in northern New Jersey, prompting Gov. James E. McGreevey to declare a state of emergency. Later in the day, power was reported slowly coming on.

The outages, which also affected cities from New York to Cleveland and Detroit and north into Canada, apparently were due to natural causes and there was no sign of terrorism, officials in New York and Washington said.

The governor moblized 700 National Guardsman and 300 extra state troopers, and said there were no reports of fatalities or injuries. In Newark, six people had to be rescued from stuck elevators, officials said.

The blackout in New Jersey was concentrated in the north, affecting about 1 million PSE&G customers, spokeswoman Leslie Cifelli said. Essex, Bergen and Hudson counties were hit the worst, she said.

In many cities and towns traffic froze, delaying commuters' trip home. New Jersey commuters found themselves stuck in the city for hours.

As families found they could not call or locate loved ones, officials went on the air to urge residents to stay calm.

At the New Jersey Transit terminal in Hoboken, a transit worker with a bullhorn tried to quell people's anxiety.

''The tunnels are closed,'' she said. ''There's gridlock out there. We can't get buses in and out of Hoboken. We can't run the trains becasue there's no electricity. There is literally nothing more we can do. All I ask is that you be patient.''

On Broad street in Newark, shortly after the outage hit, three men walking south predicted the worst. One said to another: ''There's going to be rape, there's going to be murder, there's going to be looting.''

All along the broad throroughfare there was commotion, but no gaity. People talked nevously to strangers, asking if they knew what had happened.

There were a lot of stories, not all of them true.

Felicia DeCosta had just returned from her job at Raritan Center and was trying to withdraw from money from an ATM when the machine went dead. The woman next to her said, ''The power is out all over the world!''

DeCosta believed her.

Surges of shoppers, meanwhile, stormed stores, looking for candles, batteries, and radios.

Chaos reigned at transportation centers.Trains didn't run, and buses overflowed. Car service companies stopped answering their phones.

Traffic was nightmarish in many cities and suburbs.

In Newark, a police SUV sped down a sidewalk to get around thousands of gridlocked cars. In Jersey City, cars piggybacked on ambulances or firetrucks in order to make progress. Some drivers, honking, simply plowed across plugged intersections, hoping to intimidate those who would cross them.

Sweltering temperatures made ovens out of homes and apartments without air-conditioning.

At New Community's senior complex in Newark, dozens of seniors sat outside in wheelchairs and lawn chairs. Said Wilma McNair, who suffers from diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and angina: ''I'm more worried about the people who are too sick to get up (than myself.)''

Everywhere, it seemed, parents who could not get to day care centers in time to retrieve children frantically telephoned parents or friends to do pick-up duty.

Gerald and Rebecca Mancini fought traffic from their home in Wayne to pick up their grandsons at the Rainbow Child Care Center in Montclair; their son and daughter-in-law were stuck in midtown Manhattan. The trip, usually a 15-minute drive, took one hour, 15 minutes and they get there just in time for the 6 p.m. closing.

By late evening the Bridgewater Home Depot was bracing for a huge run for generators. As of 6 p.m., customers had already purchased half a dozen generators were purchased.

''The phones have been going nuts here with people calling about generators,'' said Robin Tomko, who works in special services.

''We've had a run like this for generators during the Y2K in 2000 and right after Sept. 11,'' added Skip Snyder, who also works in special services. ''Whenever there is an emergency, people come in here like crazy.''

At Costco in Bridgewater, Joe DeMato of Martinsville — dispatched by his wife — bought three cases of water.

''My wife called me from work in Union and was afraid that it was going to move south,'' DeMato said. ''She gets a little spastic when it comes to things like this.''

Staff writers Robin Fisher, Phil Read, Peggy O'Crowley and Carol Ann Campbel, and Dena Guirguis contributed to this report.

Jersey officials move quickly to activate emergency plans

McGreevey expects power to be back on across state by noon


While saying that power should be back on everywhere in the state by midday, Gov. James E. McGreevey urged residents of northern New Jersey to stay home today.

''Unless it's absolutely necessary, we would ask people to stay home,'' McGreevey said at a news conference at 9:20 last night. ''That's clearly our preference, that people stay home with their families. As we grapple to restore power on the grid, it's an art, not a hard science.''

There could still be sporadic brownouts or blackouts today, he explained.

McGreevey said a million New Jersey customers were without power at the height of the blackout yesterday, but that number had fallen to 350,000 by 9 o'clock last night. All power is expected to be restored by noon today, he added.

Earlier, the state government moved quickly to respond to the power failure that struck the northern part of the state.

Three hundred state troopers were called to duty and sent to patrol a dozen cities. Seven hundred National Guard troops were called up to be prepared to assist. And an emergency fleet of 500 buses was dispatched to pick up stranded commuters.

McGreevey was vacationing with his wife and daughter in Cape May when the outage began about 4:15 p.m. He was in his hotel room, still in his swimsuit, when he got a call from his chief of staff, Jamie Fox.

By 4:30 p.m., an emergency operations center was up and running at State Police headquarters, and 15 minutes later, McGreevey was in a conference call with key staffers. At 5 o'clock, the governor declared a state of emergency.

Shortly before boarding a State Police helicopter for the 45-minute flight back to Mercer County, McGreevey issued a directive suspending collection of tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.

By 7:10 p.m., McGreevey was at the State Police Office of Emergency Management in West Trenton, announcing that pre-existing contingency plans to deal with such a situation were being implemented.

He said a fleet of 500 additional buses was being dispatched to pick up stranded passengers, with 300 of them going to New York City and ''literally picking up New Jersey residents off the street.'' The other 200 buses, he said, were going to Hoboken to transport New Jerseyans who made it back across the river, by ferry or other means, to Essex and Morris counties.

McGreevey said 300 state troopers were being sent to patrol neighborhoods without power. Later, State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes said they were dispatched to Newark, East Orange, Orange, Harrison, Irvington, Paterson, Passaic, Weehawken, Jersey City, North Arlington, Bloomfield and Belleville to assist local police.

''We're there to be at their back. We're going to give them additional support,'' Fuentes said.

Brig. Gen. Glenn Rieth said 700 National Guard troops were standing by at Ft. Dix to serve as needed.

McGreevey said all hospitals in the state had power.

McGreevey credited the state's Domestic Security Task Force for devising the contingency plans that turned out to be needed yesterday, though not because of a terrorist attack.

''The plan is fully in effect. It's working,'' McGreevey said. ''Obviously, this is a significant inconvenience, but working together with local police departments, we'll get through this.''

McGreevey said that when he learned of the power outage yesterday afternoon, his first concern ''was determining whether terrorism was a factor. From all indications, it was not.''

Attorney General Peter Harvey said that made no difference in how the contingency plans were implemented.

''Whether it's a snowstorm or an explosion, you have to deal with the same issues,'' Harvey said. He said those included making sure people could move about, getting them home and off the streets and making sure hospitals were functioning.

Staff writers Joe Donohue, Josh Margolin, Kathy Barrett Carter and Susan Livio contributed to this article.

Jersey copes with a barrage of woes

The blackout stymies prisons, hospitals, transit


With the suddenness of a thunderclap, yesterday's blackout left much of North Jersey in confusion and disarray, extinguishing traffic lights, forcing prisons and hospitals to revert to back-up generators, stranding PATH trains beneath the Hudson River and leaving more than a million people in the dark.

Gov. James McGreevey declared a state of emergency and mobilized 700 National Guardsmen and 300 additional state troopers. State officials said there were no reports of fatalities or injuries, despite widespread outages in Essex, Bergen, Hudson, Passaic and Union counties beginning just after 4 p.m.

By late last night, authorities said the number of customers without power still stood near 350,000. McGreevey said state officials expected power to be restored completely by noon today, but he urged North Jersey residents to stay home while power companies work to stabilize a frayed system.

The blackout primarily affected the service area of PSE&G, which had a million customers without power, according to spokeswoman Leslie Cifelli. JCP&L reported about 5,000 customers in darkness along the Shore, while Conectiv, which covers the state's eight southernmost counties, reported no problems.

Even in the hardest-hit areas, the outages were oddly sporadic. Whole blocks in some urban areas remained unaffected, while neighboring streets went hours — or even all night —without power. Office workers idled by the blackout called home to the suburbs, only to discover that spouses or children were blissfully unaware of the problems.

Twenty of the state's 85 acute-care hospitals lost power, mainly in Essex and Bergen counties, said New Jersey Hospital Association President Gary Carter. Generators at each of the hospitals kept the critical care units working, but incoming emergency room patients were diverted to other facilities, Carter said. By 8:30 p.m., most hospitals had regained power.

Three state prisons ran on generators during the outage: Mountainview Youth Correctional Facility in Annandale, Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton and Northern State Prison in Newark, said corrections spokeswoman Dierdre Fedkenheuer. Despite the problem, prisoners were not placed on lockdown.

Along the New Jersey Turnpike in Union County, motorists and area residents watched in alarm as flames leapt 50 to 70 feet from smokestacks at the Bayway Refinery in the ConocoPhillips facility. Spokesman Michael Karlovich said the flames were routine flares designed to burn off excess fuel after a power disruption.

The outages played havoc with rush-hour commuting, as signal lights on the state's roadways blinked randomly or went out altogether. Motorists edged warily through intersections from Hackensack to Linden, as police officers or self-appointed traffic cops tried to lend some order to the chaos.

At Wachovia Bank in Elizabeth, security guard Raymond Harley said the power went out at about 4:15 p.m., shortly after he was finishing up closing the bank.

''The lights went out and the traffic went crazy,'' Harley said. ''There were almost two accidents on the corner of North Broad and Magnolia Streets.''

At Raymond Boulevard and McCarter Highway in Newark, one of the city's busiest intersections, a civilian jumped into the fray and started directing traffic on his own.

''I saw the traffic,'' said Fred Strasser, 26, of Bradley Beach. ''I figured there would be a million accidents if I didn't, so I did.''

In the PATH tubes beneath the Hudson River, commuters on 10 trains were stranded mid-trip. Passengers, guided by conductors, exited the trains and walked out of the tunnels in the dark, many of them using their cell phones as flashlights. At times, riders passed the phones back and forth to light the way.

''Everybody was holding each other as they were walking,'' said Ruby Kasulurah of Woodcliff Lake.

Amtrak suspended all service between New York Penn Station, New Haven, Conn., and Newark, spokesman Cliff Black said. NJ Transit cut back to limited service on most major lines, and closed the Morris and Essex lines late into the evening. Newark Liberty International Airport remained open, but flights slowed to a trickle.

Despite fears of looting and lawlessness in the state's urban centers, authorities reported no serious problems. Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura toured some of the county soon after power was lost and came away impressed with the way people were treating each other.

''Many, at first, thought the outage was an act of terrorism,'' he said. ''But once they realized it wasn't, you could see their sense of relief and they seemed genuinely kind to one another, and patient.''

The biggest problem was not crime, but city elevators, said Robert Penn, deputy commander of Newark's emergency management team.

''Our main problem was getting people stuck in elevators. We received about 40 calls,'' Penn said. ''The fire department got them all unstuck.''

In Montclair, Mayor Bob Russo said local authorities received eight calls about people stuck in elevators — half of them at Mountainside Hospital. Fire officials were advising building superintendents in town not to use elevators, but ''it's tough on older folks to walk down six or seven flights of stairs,'' Russo said.

As the blackout stretched into the evening, many people seemed resigned to letting things take their course, however inconvenient. At the Towaco NJ Transit station in Montville, the parking lot was full of commuters' cars, but only four men, all Dover residents, lingered in the station.

''It usually takes me 20 minutes to get home. Now I've been stuck here for two hours,'' said Jairo Valle, who works in a local jewelry store.

The four agreed to share a cab.

''I'm tired of waiting. I want to make dinner, take a bath and go to sleep,'' said Adrian Torres, a gardener.

Staff writers Amy Ellis Nutt, Ron Marsico, Joe Malinconico, Ted Sherman, Maura McDermott, Guy Sterling, Gabriel H. Gluck, Sue Livio, Dunstan McNichol, Jonathan Schuppe, Hannan Adely, Leha Byrd, Reginald Roberts, Jeanette Rundquist, Eli Gelman, Jennifer Golson, George Berkin, and Star-Ledger wire services contributed to this report.

State looks for a buyer to keep Nets here

Dealmakers enlisted to thwart relocation


New Jersey's top dealmakers, including former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli, are searching for investors to buy the Nets in a desperate attempt to keep the team from moving to New York.

The efforts, which also involve real estate magnate Charles Kushner, intensified this week as state officials learned that Charles Wang, who owns the New York Islanders hockey team and is interested in purchasing the Nets, had stepped up his negotiations with Nassau County, N.Y., to build an arena for the two teams.

Wang has long coveted a National Basketball Association franchise on Long Island and is said to be mulling the Nets asking price of $250 million.

Officials working with Nassau County Executive Tom Souzzi yesterday confirmed the recent discussions with Wang. At the same time, New York developer Bruce Ratner is working on a complicated deal to move the Nets to a proposed arena that would be built at the Long Island Rail Road terminal in downtown Brooklyn.

The efforts by Torricelli and Kushner come as top investors with YankeeNets, the basketball team's parent company, are scheduled to hold a teleconference today to plan the future of the troubled company.

YankeeNets, whose top investors also control the New Jersey Devils hockey team, was once hailed as the model sports company of the 21st century. However, mounting financial losses for the Nets and Devils have caused irreparable friction at the highest levels of the organization, which is expected to break up in the coming months.

Those losses were caused largely by the failure of Raymond Chambers and Lewis Katz, the team's principal owners, to secure a deal to finance a $355 million arena in downtown Newark. Chambers and Katz wanted to move the teams from the Continental Airlines Arena at the Meadowlands Sports Complex to Newark to help revitalize the state's largest city.

Without a Newark arena — chances for a deal remain slim — Chambers has said he will sell the Nets, perhaps to an ownership group in New York that would move the team across the Hudson River. Chambers would like to sell the Devils as well, but there are few buyers for National Hockety League fgranchises these days, especially one that lost some $25 million last year.

Given the stalled negotiations in Newark, top officials with Gov. James E. McGreevey's administration have spent the week coming up with a plan to renovate the Continental arena.

McGreevey is hoping the $100 million plan designed by Los Angeles architect Ron Turner can entice an investment group in New Jersey to buy the Nets and keep the team here.

''I'm hopeful that YankeeNets can work out a deal in Newark, which has given the sports company everything it has asked for,'' said George Zoffinger, chief executive of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and McGreevey's point-man on professional sports. ''If they can't, we are trying to put together an idea of how the Continental Arena can be refurbished without burdening taxpayers.''

So far, the efforts to find a New Jersey buyer have been unsuccessful.

Kushner declined comment on his search, saying via an e-mail that ''I prefer to stay away from the press as it relates to this topic.''

Some of the state's wealthiest real estate moguls have been approached about owning a stake in the Nets, the NBA's defending Eastern Conference champions.

''I received an approach,'' said David Mandlebaum, the West Orange real estate mogul who is a frequent business partner of Kushner, commercial developer Joseph Wilf and New York developer Steve Ross.

''I declined because it's just not our business. The only one that works for us is the real estate biz,'' Mandlebaum said. ''I was approached within the last 60 days and I said no.''

Death threat came weeks before fatal shootings

Brother-in-law sought in slayings of Baraka daughter and friend


Two months ago, the man wanted in the shooting deaths of poet Amiri Baraka's daughter and her friend in a Piscataway home,
pointed a gun at his wife's head, cocked it, and said, ''I should kill you,'' according to police.

James Coleman, 35, the estranged husband of another Bar­aka daughter, Wanda Pasha, remained at large yesterday as au­thorities in Middlesex County and Newark continued their search for him.

Coleman has not been charged in the women's deaths, but is a fu­gitive on a warrant issued by Piscataway police for allegedly threaten­ing to kill Pasha in June, said As­sistant Middlesex County Prose­cutor Thomas Kapsak.

Shani Baraka, 31, a teacher and girls high school basketball coach in Newark, and her close friend, Rayshon Holmes, 30, of Irvington were found with multiple gunshot wounds in Pasha's home Tuesday, police said. They had gone to the Martin Lane home to retrieve some of Baraka's belongings.

Family friends who arrived to walk Pasha's pit bull at 11:30 p.m. discovered the bodies and alerted Pasha, who was vacationing in Las Vegas, authorities said.

Kapsak, chief of the Middlesex County homicide unit, said the search remains focused on Cole­man's friends and relatives in New­ark and Central Jersey, including his mother. A nationwide law en­forcement bulletin has also been issued, he said.

''We're talking to everybody who knew or was related to Cole­man,'' said Kapsak. ''We obviously would like him to answer some questions. We haven't filed any charges against him relating to the murder. He's not a suspect.''

Authorities believe Coleman, who is also known as Ibn El-Amin Pasha, may be driving Holmes' white Toyota Land Cruiser — li­cense plate MPP-19Z — stolen from Pasha's driveway. Baraka's car, a red Mercedes Benz, also taken from the crime scene, was re­covered yesterday less than a half-mile away, parked on a residential street in Piscataway, said Kapsak.

Coleman's relatives have not heard from him, said his cousin, Emmanuel Avraham, a family spokesman in Newark.

''We're doing everything we pos­sibly can to locate him,'' said Avraham. ''We ask those in the commu­nity to refrain from making judgments and allow the authorit­ies to do their investigation based on facts, evidence and truth to de­termine what exactly happened. We don't know who did it. None of us were there.''

Avraham said Coleman's family deeply regrets what happened and ''extends prayers for strength'' to the Baraka and Holmes families.

''We have nothing but love for the Barakas,'' said Avraham. ''Amiri Baraka has been a corner­stone of black leadership in the city of Newark. When our leaders are in pain, we in the community suffer, too.''

In Newark's South Ward, the prominent Baraka family knew Coleman and his extended family well. Amiri Baraka Jr., an aide to Mayor Sharpe James, got Coleman a job as a health investigator for the city, a $29,000-a-year post.

Residents there described Cole­man as something of a ''showboat'' who emulated rappers, operated a hair salon at one point and staged fashion shows at a local hotel.

''He always wanted to be differ­ent,'' said Obalaji Baraka, another of Baraka's sons.

Coleman pleaded guilty to drug possession and distribution charges in East Orange in 1989. He served a two-year prison term and was paroled, according to Essex County criminal records.

For a brief time after being released, friends said Coleman orga­nized black unity rallies. He got in­volved with former Cleveland Browns great Jim Brown, who worked to help parolees rejoining their communities.

''People didn't see something like this coming,'' said Keith Hooper, a friend of both the Cole­man and Baraka amilies. ''You
never know what's going on in peo­ple's minds. It's just straight sense­less.''

''Other than this (incident) he was a regular cat from the commu­nity,'' said Wasi Islam, another friend. ''This is definitely out of his character.''

Coleman and Pasha had been married for three years, and her rel­atives said they did not know about his alleged abuse until Janu­ary, when she threw him out of the Piscataway house. Since then, po­lice said, he grew more violent and menacing.

He broke into Pasha's raised ranch home on Martin Lane, and slashed her built-in pool, said her brother Ras Baraka, a deputy mayor of Newark.

On April 27, a domestic violence restraining order was issued against him, police said. Pasha grew increasingly afraid and in­stalled flood lights and got a pit bull, relatives said. Her sister, Shani Baraka, who had been staying with her, stopped coming to the house, relatives said.

Then in June, Coleman alleg­edly followed Pasha to a friend's home in Newark and torched her car while she was inside, said Pa­sha's brothers. They said she did not report it to police.

On June 15, Coleman allegedly pointed a handgun at Pasha's head and was charged with aggravated assault and terroristic threats. Pasha waited more than two weeks before reporting that incident to Piscataway police on July 2, according to a police report. Cole­man was ordered held on $100,000 bail.

But police could not locate him to make the arrest. Believing Cole­man lived and worked in Newark, Piscataway police notified Newark authorities of the warrant, said Kapsak, the Middlesex assistant prosecutor.

''They didn't know exactly where he was,'' said Kapsak. With­out a specific address, he said Piscataway police ''wouldn't just go into Newark and start knocking on doors.'' Newark authorities were not available yesterday to explain what actions they took to try to find Coleman.

Around that time, Coleman had stopped showing up for work, because he knew Middlesex authorit­ies were looking for him, Baraka's friends and relatives said.

A stream of friends, including rapper Queen Latifah, offered con­dolences to the victims' families in Newark yesterday. Joint funeral services for Baraka and Holmes will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Met­ropolitan Baptist Church on Springfield Avenue in Newark. Viewing is today from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Staff Writer William Kleinknecht contributed to this report.

Seton Hall: Sheppard out as coach

Health issues cited, but controversy apparent factor in ending reign


Mike Sheppard Sr., the longtime Seton Hall baseball coach who came under fire this season for his coaching tactics and defections from his program, abruptly retired yesterday just two victories shy of 1,000, the school announced.

Sheppard, 67, said he could not comment when reached by phone, but a formal release, which did not quote Sheppard, cited ''health reasons and a desire to spend more time with his children and grandchildren.''

In his 31 seasons as Seton Hall's head coach, Sheppard compiled a record of 998-540-11 and led the school to 12 NCAA Tournament appearances. His son, associate head coach Rob Sheppard, will be the acting coach for 2004 before the school hires a permanent coach.

''The university will conduct a nationwide search for a permanent coach,'' Seton Hall AD Jeff Fogelson said in the statement. Fogelson could not be reached for further comment.

Sheppard's final season, in which the team went 23-24, was his most tumultuous. The university hired an independent law firm to conduct an investigation into the baseball program after a Star-Ledger report on March 31 in which more than a dozen former players and their parents criticized Sheppard for his coaching tactics.

'The investigation has been completed,'' university spokeswoman Susan Diamond said. ''It is a confidential investigation so we will not release any results. Not commenting on any specific findings should not be construed as confirmation or denial of any issues that have been raised.''

Eighteen players left the program over a three-year period. Several criticized Sheppard, a former U.S. Marine, for being too tough on his players.

'We hope that the new staff will develop skills, produce a winning program and turn out professionals without resorting to the tactics of ridicule and humiliation that defied the motto of this Catholic university,'' said parent Steve Hoffmann, whose son, Brett Hoffmann, cited a ''hostile environment'' as his reason for quitting the team in 2002.

Sheppard's 998 victories are more than the total number of games(963) Seton Hall played before he took over at his alma mater in 1973. The previous 15 head coaches compiled a 593-359-11 mark.

He had said as recently as December that he had no intention of retiring.

''I'm sorry that he's retiring,'' Rutgers coach Fred Hill said. ''I'm losing a great deal because of all the great games we've had against each other. The Seton Hall program will miss him a great deal.''

Sheppard's teams reached the College World Series in 1974 and 1975 and won Big East Tournament titles in 1987 and 2001. He ranks 27th on the list of NCAA's all-time winningest coaches. More than 80 of his players went on to sign professional contracts, and 30 of made the major leagues. Craig Biggio of the Astros, Mo Vaughn of the Mets and Matt Morris of the Cardinals are among the current major-leaguers to play for Sheppard.

''He's had a tough year,'' said Rider coach Sonny Pittaro, who has 740 victories in his 33 years. ''I'm sorry to hear that. We've been battling each other for a long time and I'm sorry to see him go. His record speaks for itself, not only with the wins, but with the players he's developed.''

Sheppard had to take time off during the 2001 season because of triple-bypass heart surgery. Rob Sheppard took over as the interim coach and guided the Pirates to the 2001 Big East title. He was named the Division 1 Coach of the Year by the New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association that year.

Rob Sheppard and his two brothers, Mike Jr. and John, all played for their father at Seton Hall.

One of Sheppard's most memorable seasons was 1987, when Seton Hall set a school record with a 45-10 mark, featuring Biggio, Vaughn and John Valentin.

Seven of Sheppard's players have been drafted in the first round, including Jason Grilli by the Giants, Biggio by the Astros, Vaughn by the Red Sox, Cerone by the Indians, Pat Pacillo by the Reds, John Morris by the Royals and Matt Morris by the Cardinals.

A three-time Big East Coach of the Year, Sheppard's teams won 30 or more games 22 times and 40 or more games five times.

'The teams he coached have set a standard for Seton Hall baseball that would challenge and inspire any coach.''

Steve Politi contributed to this report.

System collapsed like house of cards


The huge electrical grid that ties together utilities from the eastern United States to Canada is like a balloon — squeeze one end and it is felt at the other.

Yesterday the balloon popped.

The power-sharing system — a highly interconnected and intricate network designed to let utilities share electricity and back each other up — instead caused them to pull each other down in a spiral that knocked out nearly the entire system within a matter of moments.

The extensive blackouts that rolled across several states and 9,300 square miles, plunging millions of people into the dark, began with a sudden outage near the Canadian border — possibly due to a lightning strike, although the cause remained in sharp dispute last night with finger-pointing from both countries.

There was no dispute over the impact.

''This is the largest power disruption in the history of the United States,'' declared Phillip G. Harris, president and chief executive officer of the PJM Interconnection, the regional power pool that serves Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. ''There's just been nothing this big, this broad.''

All of the region's utilities are interconnected with each other, for both reliability and economic reasons. Utilities that need power can buy additional capacity as demand increases — such as during periods of hot weather — or ship excess power to other utilities that need it, over high-power transmission lines.

The system saves utilities money and ensures redundant supplies of energy.

To protect the network in the event of a major power outages, circuit breakers, relays and transmission line isolators are used to isolate problems, in effect sealing off a breach in the system.

''The system is designed to prevent this kind of cascading event,'' said Ralph Izzo, senior vice president of utility operations for Public Service Electric & Gas Co., the largest electric utility in New Jersey and the one most severely affected by the system collapse in the state.

To some extent it worked. Preliminary inspections by utilities found no major damage to the system. But the sudden loss of power in one part of the system started tripping out the power in whole areas, one after another.

Indeed, the interdependence of the utilities on each other turned out to be a weakness that became glaringly apparent — like a line of mountain climbers roped together, pulling each other in turn off a cliff.

''Clearly, something went very wrong,'' Izzo said.

According to Harris, the event caused a massive rush of power into the blacked-out areas to the north.

''It overloaded the transmission lines and the isolators started shutting things down,'' Harris said.

The power loss pulled down New York state and the city, and in turn knocked out wide areas of New Jersey directly connected to New York.

Detroit, Cleveland and other areas to the west failed because utilities there have direct connections with Canada through Ontario, where blackouts were reported in Toronto, Ottawa and across the province.

Canadian officials insisted a lightning strike in the Niagara region on the U.S. side sparked the quick-spreading outage. But Brian Warner of the New York Power Authority said its Niagara facilities were not hit by lightning and ''at no time during this incident ceased to operate.''

Others said the loss of a major Canadian transmission line began the chain of failures, which knocked out power in a wide swath from Ohio to New York and New Jersey and into Canada. However, Ontario Hydro officials said the problem originated elsewhere.

''We're confident that the trigger for this widespread outage did not occur on our system,'' said spokesman Al Manchee. ''There was no indication that there was anything wrong in our system prior to the outage.''

New York state lost 80 percent of its power, said Matthew Melewski, speaking for the New York Independent System Operator, which manages the state power grid. Both New York and New Jersey declared states of emergency.

The power loss caused nine nuclear reactors in four states to automatically shut down because of instability in the power grids, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reported. Mary Rucci, a spokeswoman for AmerGen Energy, said the Oyster Creek nuclear reactor in Lacey Township was among them. Two other conventional power plants in New Jersey also tripped off.

The sudden shutdowns of the generating plants added to the quick spread of the blackout.

In New Jersey, more than 1 million PSE&G customers went dark when the utility's systems unexpectedly shut down as power was sucked into New York.

PSE&G was severely affected because it has two power transmission lines in Jersey City connected directly with Con Edison in Brooklyn, and two more in Bergen County connecting with Orange and Rockland Utilities in New York.

While PSE&G had added systems after the 1965 blackout to prevent a repeat, those systems proved an inadequate defense.

''These things happen in fractions of a second,'' said Pete Landrieu, head of the utility's transmission system, who was scheduled to retire today.

At PSE&G's Electric System Operating Center, the nerve center of the utility's generation and transmission system, the collapse of the electric grid first became apparent to director Paul Cafone with a momentary loss of lights in his office.

He quickly walked over to shift supervisor Lou Pallito, who was watching the system go down on the computer screens that monitor the power grid.

''Lou turned to me and said, 'We have big trouble. We're going into voltage collapse,''' Cafone recalled.

So much energy was being dragged out of PSE&G's system that the voltage was dropping precipitously.

''When you start rocking, you know you're on the way out,'' said Cafone. ''At that point, there was nothing we could do to prevent the shutdown of the system.''

Harris said the system is designed to compensate for such losses, but said something obviously went wrong.

Despite yesterday's August heat, weather was not considered a factor. The power grid official said it wasn't any hotter than it was last year, adding that electric generating units trip out all the time without causing such havoc.

''It will take some time to get into the actual forensics of this,'' Harris said.

Staff writers David Kinney and Jeff Whelan contributed to this report.

Outages from Jersey to Ontario


A spectacular power failure rippled from Canada across the northeastern United States and as far west as Michigan yesterday, throwing a steamy August afternoon into turmoil for tens of millions of people.

Traffic lights winked out. Elevators abruptly stopped between floors. Trains ground to a halt in inky underground tunnels. And people streamed from high-rises and office buildings into the packed streets of more than a half-dozen major cities.

The outage — believed to be the largest in U.S. history, though hardly the longest-lasting — stretched from Ottawa and Toronto in Canada as far south as central New Jersey. To the east, New York City and Long Island were hit. To the west, the blackout extended through Pennsylvania into Ohio and Michigan.

Vowing intensive investigations into the failure, officials were looking at a power transmission problem from Canada as the most likely cause. Authorities said they had found no evidence that the blackouts were linked to terrorism.

The outage began shortly before 4:15 p.m., spreading from the Niagara-Mohawk power grid in upstate New York across several states in a mere three minutes. Like dominoes falling, power plants began shutting down. In all, 21 plants, including nine nuclear facilities, shut down. The outages ranged over an area with roughly 50 million people.

Power began to come back in some cities as afternoon turned to evening, but officials said full restoration would take much longer.

In New Jersey, the blackout was concentrated in the north, affecting about 1 million customers of Public Service Electric and Gas, said spokeswoman Leslie Cifelli said. Essex, Bergen and Hudson counties were hit the hardest, Cifelli said.

Jersey Central Power & Light had about 5,000 customers without power in its eight northern and northwestern counties, spokesman Dave File said.

Much of the state was powered up again by nightfall.

Traffic lights were out throughout downtown Cleveland and other major cities, creating havoc at the beginning of rush hour. Cleveland officials said that without the power needed to pump water to 1.5 million people, water reserves were running low.

New York state lost 80 percent of its power, said Matthew Melewski, speaking for the New York Independent System Operator, which manages the state power grid. Both New York and New Jersey declared states of emergency.

In New York City, subways, elevators and airports, including John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, lost electricity or resorted to limited backup power. Thousands of people streamed into the streets of Lower Manhattan in 90-degree heat, and some subway commuters were still stuck underground hours after the blackout hit.

There were outages in northern New Jersey and in several Vermont towns. In Connecticut, Metro-North Railroad service was knocked out. Lights flickered at state government buildings in Hartford.

In Massachusetts, Kim Hicks of Baltic, Conn., was on the Cyclone roller coaster at a Six Flags amusement park in Agawam when everything stopped. ''We sat there about 20 minutes and they finally came to walk us off,'' she said. The park regained power a short time later.

In Albany, N.Y., several people were trapped in elevators in Empire State Plaza, but most had been freed by 5 p.m. People in New York City lined up 10 deep or more at pay phones, with cell phone service disrupted in some areas. Times Square went dark

In Cleveland, Olga Kropko, a University Hospitals labor and delivery nurse, said the hospital was using its back-up generators and had limited power. ''Everyone is very hot because the air conditioning is off,'' she said. ''Our laboring moms are suffering.''

John Meehan, 56, walked down 37 stories in the BP Tower in downtown Cleveland, wearing his suit and carrying a briefcase. ''It makes you wonder, was this terrorism or what?'' he asked.

The FBI and Homeland Security Department both said the outages appeared to be a natural occurrence and not the result of terrorism.

Police in Mansfield, Ohio, spread into the streets to keep traffic flowing. ''A lot of officers are out there trying to make sure nobody gets hurt, to try to cut down on the accidents,'' said jail officer Randi Allen.

The blackouts easily surpassed those in the West on Aug. 11, 1996, in terms of people affected. That day, heat, sagging power lines and unusually high demand for electricity caused an outage for 4 million customers in nine states.

An outage in New York City in 1977 left 9 million people without electricity for up to 25 hours. In 1965, about 25 million people across New York state and most of New England lost electricity for a day.

Amtrak suspended passenger rail service between New Haven, Conn., and Newark. Some northbound trains from Washington — a city that did not lose power — turned around at Newark.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked the city's more than 8 million people to be calm, go home, open windows and drink water.

''Be sure you don't make an inconvenience into a tragedy,'' he said.

As for the cause, he said: ''It was probably a natural occurrence which disrupted the power system up there and it apparently, for reasons we don't know, cascaded down through New York state over into Connecticut, as far south as New Jersey and as far west as Ohio.''

In Washington, the Health and Human Services Department said the biggest health concern was people getting overheated and dehydrated, something that local health systems appeared to be handling, said spokesman Campbell Gardett.

For New York police, the focus was on the ramifications of the blackout rather than its cause.

''We're more concerned about getting the traffic lights running and making sure the city is OK than what caused it,'' said a spokesman at the department's operations center downtown.

''The good news is that in New York City, while we have lost all the power, Con Ed's facilities have shut down properly, which we have programmed them to do,'' said Bloomberg.

Nine nuclear power reactors — six in New York and one each in New Jersey, Ohio and Michigan — reported they were shut down because of the loss of off-site power, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Bethesda, Md.

The North American Electric Reliability Council, an industry group responsible for monitoring the integrity of the system, said the power outages were ''widespread and appear to be centered around Lake Erie, although they are affecting the entire eastern interconnection.''

Flights at six airports — Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark, Cleveland, Toronto and Ottawa — were grounded, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.

In Times Square, Giovanna Leonardo, 26, was waiting in a line of 200 people for a bus to Staten Island.

''I'm scared,'' she said. ''It's that unknown, what's going on' feeling. Everyone's panicking. The city's shutting down.''

The blackout closed the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, which 27,000 vehicles use daily, and silenced the gambling machines at Detroit's Greektown Casino. Patrons filed into the afternoon heat carrying cups of tokens.

At the Homeland Security Department, spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said federal officials were still gathering information and had not determined a cause.

The department ''is working with state and local officials and the energy sector to determine the cause of the outage as well as what response measures may be needed to be taken,'' he said. He said everyone should ''listen and heed the advice of the local authorities.''

Along several blocks near Midtown Manhattan, deli owners put their suddenly unrefrigerated food out on tables, in buckets of ice. ''Half price on everything,'' read one sign.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?