As July 13, 1977 dawned hot and humid, New Yorkers were feeling down on their luck. The crime-ridden city was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and had been terrorized for months by a psychotic serial killer known as “Son of Sam.” Unemployment was high and services had been cut. A series of lightning strikes cut off electricity to the entire metropolitan area, plunging some seven million people into darkness. Within minutes the looting began. The police commissioner called in the city’s entire 25,000-strong officer force, but only 8,000 reported for duty. As employees of Consolidated Edison struggled to restore power to the poorly designed system, mayhem ruled. By the time the lights went back on more than a day later, 2,000 businesses had been looted, 4,000 people arrested, and firefighters had battled more than 1,000 fires. Told through the memories of New Yorkers who lived through the events in a hospital critical care unit, the candlelit offices of The New York Times, the streets of Bushwick in Brooklyn, and the pressure-packed control center of Consolidated Edison on West End Avenue, Blackout examines how the 1977 power outage came about, and what changes were enacted in its wake. In this documentary, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE explores the economic, political, technological, and social consequences of an event that led to both horrifying lawlessness and to innumerable acts of selflessness and generosity.
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