Hospitals in Cleveland switched to emergency generators, used fans to cool laboring mothers and served patients cold meals. Police dispatchers in Erie, Pa., went back in time and scribbled emergency calls on scraps of paper as they struggled to reboot their computers.
Traffic lights darkened at busy intersections at the start of rush hour in Mansfield, Ohio, and office workers in Cleveland lucky enough not to be stuck in elevators hiked down hundreds of steps on their way home.
The power blackout in U.S. and Canadian cities extended beyond the East Coast to portions of the Midwest, closing nuclear power plants in Ohio and New York state and shutting down businesses in blistering heat.
"Everything we do is electric," said Jim Adam, who owns a car repair business in Akron, Ohio, where work stopped on 20 to 30 cars. "We can't get a car off the ground, and all of our air tools and spray guns are on compressed air. We don't have any compressors without electricity."
At University Hospitals in Cleveland, fans replaced air conditioners, cold food replaced hot meals and patients were notified of emergency measures, said hospital spokesman Eric Sandstrom.
The warm rooms were particularly hard on laboring mothers, said Olga Kropko, a hospital labor and delivery nurse.
For those in the business world, an ordinary workday turned into a mid-August nightmare. John Meehan, 56, walked down 37 stories in the BP Tower, a downtown office building in Cleveland, wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase. The stairway had emergency lights on.
"It was pretty exhausting," Meehan said. "When something like this happens, and you have to come down from the 37th floor it makes you wonder, was this terrorism or what?"
Cleveland officials said that without the power needed to pump water to 1.5 million people, reserves were running low.
In Erie, the power outage disrupted the police department's computerized communications system.
"We've had to go back to writing the call down on a piece of paper," said Sgt. Dave Van Buskirk, a detective. "Everybody's probably reset their computers 10 times."
Police in Mansfield fanned out 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 Officer Randi Allen.
In Lansing, Mich, sirens blared as firefighters helped evacuate hundreds of workers from the state Capitol.
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.
Newspapers, too, were sent into emergency mode.
The Plain Dealer, Cleveland's largest newspaper, scrambled to put together a 12-page newspaper, much smaller than its usual editions. The paper had to use the presses of one of its rivals, The Beacon Journal in Akron.
While electricity was also out in most of Akron, a quirk in the grid spared downtown Akron, where the paper is printed.
In Detroit, as darkness approached the newsroom of the Free Press, reporters were taking dictation on laptops recharged by car batteries. Reporters and editors were sent home to retrieve flashlights and candles because the local businesses closedonce the power went out, said Carole Leigh Hutton, the newspaper's executive editor.
The newspaper planned to publish an eight-page edition without advertising today, solely devoted to blackout coverage and printed at a Battle Creek, Mich., plant owned by a smaller daily.
Four nuclear power reactors - two in New York and two in Ohio - reported that they had shut down because of the loss of off-site power, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They were the two Indian Point reactors in New York state, and the Perry and Fermi nuclear power plants in Ohio.
The Federal Aviation Administration instituted ground stops affecting airports in Cleveland and Newark, N.J., and New York City's Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. That meant that, at least for part of yesterday, planes from other cities heading to those four airports could not take off.
Wire services contributed to this article.