Blackout leaves Danville couple stranded in New York

August 22, 2003|GARY MOYERS

Bill and Julie Erwin expected their visit to Ground Zero in Manhattan to be quiet and reverential.

They didn't expect the entire city to come to a standstill while they were in the church on the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

The Danville couple were stranded in New York City during the recent blackout that left much of the northeast section of the country without power, shutting down airports, food services, phones - and even subways and taxis.

"We had to walk back to the hotel - almost five miles - from Ground Zero because the subways weren't moving, and all the traffic was stopped because the signals were out," said Julie Erwin.


The Erwins arrived in New York Wednesday, Aug. 13, to receive a BRAVO award from the Hanes Bright Idea Board, recognizing outstanding parents for their commitment to their families and communities. Bill and Julie Erwin are the parents of four adopted children - Will, 6; Kate, 4; and twins Clay and Nick, 2 - and Jill Erwin operates Adoption Assistance, Inc., a Danville agency to help place children with parents who wish to adopt. Bill is an attorney in Danville.

"The awards ceremony was Thursday morning, and it went off without a hitch," said Bill Erwin. "We were able to meet Vanessa Williams (former Miss America who serves as a spokesperson for Hanes), and the ceremony was really nice."

The Erwins had sightseeing planned for Thursday afternoon and a Broadway show that night, with plans to fly back home Friday morning.

Then the lights went out

Then the lights literally went out on their trip.

"The blackout hit at 4:10 Thursday afternoon while we were inside the little church at Ground Zero," said Bill Erwin. "We came out of the church, and it was so quiet outside, totally unlike New York. Traffic wasn't moving, all the lights were off, and everyone was just standing around, talking in low voices."

They were discussing, Bill Erwin said, whether or not the power failure was the result of another terrorist attack on New York.

"Of course, that's what everyone worried about," he said. "Law enforcement officials kept telling everyone it wasn't, but still, it was in the back of everyone's minds."

The Erwins walked back to their hotel in midtown Manhattan to find the blackout extended there as well.

"Our hotel had emergency lights from a generator, but they were only in the hallways," said Julie Erwin. "There was no TV, no Internet hookup, and the phones were out. Cell phones were working, but it took hours to place a call because the circuits were overloaded."

There was also no air conditioning, so the Erwins and some other hotel guests spent the night in a boardroom.

"We found one pizza place that had hot pizza, so we did eat that night," said Bill Erwin. "We walked to Times Square, and it was completely dark. It was one of the eeriest things I've ever seen."

Broadway was closed as well, negating the visit to the musical.

"We consoled ourselves by saying we could stand in Manhattan and see the stars in the sky," said Julie Erwin. "That's something that doesn't happen often."

In the meantime, the couple found they would be staying in New York an extra night, because airports were shut down.

"We had to make arrangements for baby-sitters back here in Danville, but the family stepped up and helped out," said Bill Erwin. "Sara Lee, the parent company for Hanes, took care of all our expenses, even making travel arrangements when they could. They hired a limousine to drive one couple to Boston."

Bill Erwin also had to make some calls to the Boyle County court system.

"I was supposed to be in court Friday, but obviously that couldn't happen," he said.

Friday was a different day

Friday was a different day in the northeast because of the lack of electricity.

"There were no rental cars available, and even if you could get one, the gas stations were closed because the pumps are electric," said Julie Erwin. "The subways didn't work, and taxis weren't running because they couldn't get gasoline either. There were some people on the bus, but that was so crowded we didn't want to do that."

Parts of the city regained power through the day Friday, so one "touristy" thing the Erwins wanted to do happened.

"We got to see a Broadway show Friday night," said Bill Erwin. "It wasn't the one we were originally scheduled to see, but we were just happy to be able to go."

Finally on Saturday, the Erwins were able to fly from New York to Columbus, Ohio, where they rented a car and drove the rest of the way home to Danville.

"We were very, very glad to get home," said Julie Erwin. "We didn't want to go to Columbus, but it was the closest we could get so we took it."

Hanes called Julie Erwin Thursday and said that due to the trouble they had with the blackout, the company will donate $1,000 per family to a non-profit agency of its choice. "Bill and I have requested that the $1,000 donation be made to the Dollars for Scholars program," said Julie Erwin.

All in all, Bill Erwin said the trip wasn't that bad.

"We had food, we had a place to sleep, and Sara Lee paid for everything," he said. "Now that we're home, we can laugh about it and have a good story to tell."

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