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Shopping center power knocked out

September 14, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Thousands of Hagerstown-area shoppers and diners had to alter their plans Saturday afternoon after a hit-and-run accident caused power to go out at half of the Centre at Hagerstown, including Wal-Mart and several restaurants.

As dozens of cars were streaming out of the Centre, many other shoppers were driving in, not knowing Wal-Mart had closed.

"We just came up and they told us it was closed. We came from Martinsburg," said Edward Sines, 48.

Sines and some other shoppers stayed for a while to see if the store would reopen quickly.

As people walked or drove up to the discount store, employees told them the power was out and the store was closed.

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"Is it going to be open later?" one girl asked.

"Honey, we have no idea," an employee replied.

One customer asked for directions to the next closest Wal-Mart, in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Power was restored to Wal-Mart and all the other affected businesses except KFC by 5 p.m., Allegheny Power spokesman Jay Johnson said.

Hagerstown Police said power also was still out at M&T Bank, which is next to KFC. Power was expected to be restored at both businesses by midnight, police said.

Some businesses didn't report getting power back until about 5:30 p.m.

The outage was caused when a pickup hit a power grid box in the KFC parking lot on Garland Groh Boulevard, Hagerstown police and a KFC employee said. Police were looking for a red Ford Ranger pickup with an extended cab and Pennsylvania tags, Sgt. Johnny Murray said.

KFC employee Chris Beer, 17, of Hagerstown, said he was taking trash out when he saw two young people pull up. As he turned his attention to the trash, Beer said, "I heard brakes squeal. I turned around and two boys in a red Ford Ranger hit the power box. Then they took off real fast."

The power went out around 2:30 p.m., Beer said.

The metal power box was on its side, exposing wires underneath.

Allegheny Power workers were rerouting power to the shopping center before turning their attention to the box at KFC, Lindsey Pugh, KFC shift supervisor, said.

By 5:45 p.m. Saturday, Allegheny Power workers were surveying the power box at KFC.

Johnson said Allegheny experienced equipment failure at the shopping center, causing the outage, but he was not aware of the traffic accident.

Wal-Mart lost power around 3 p.m. and got it back around 5:30, store co-manager Kevin Schulz said. Schulz said backup generators kept refrigeration units working during the outage so food should not have spoiled.

At first, Wal-Mart was able to continue operating because of the backup generators, Schulz said. However, the McDonald's inside Wal-Mart sent employees home early because they couldn't make food, said McDonald's employee Christina Robinson, 16, of Hagerstown.

Wal-Mart had to close after cash registers shut down around 4 p.m. when the store was packed, employees said.

Robinson said many Wal-Mart customers left behind carts full of groceries. Wal-Mart employees could be seen wheeling those carts back to the grocery aisles.

When asked how much business the store lost, Schulz said, "Who knows? It's a Saturday. It's one of the busier days."

Alfred Hose and his wife drove from Maugansville to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart, he said. Instead of going to a grocery store, Hose said they would probably head home.

Fifteen minutes after Wal-Mart reopened, the parking lot was more than half full and customers were inside shopping.

Almost 100 people were in line at Ryan's Steak House when the doors opened at 5:36 p.m.

Dale Schroyer, 59, of Greencastle, Pa., brought his sons, Michael, 11, and Brandon, 13, to Ryan's. He waited at the front of the line for about 20 minutes.

"I imagine it's hurt a lot of business in the shopping center," Schroyer said. "Three hours."

Ryan's General Manager Eric Garrison said the restaurant partially lost power around 2:40 p.m. and employees were able to keep cooking for a while, but they ended up closing the restaurant temporarily.

IHOP Manager Lenny Eckenrode estimated the restaurant lost about $1,000 in business because it was closed when early bird diners would have begun arriving.

"Saturday is very busy," Eckenrode said.

When the power went out, diners were allowed to finish their meals, but then IHOP closed as a precaution because the exhaust fans wouldn't work, Eckenrode said.

During the outage, about 20 employees gathered in front of Pizzeria Uno to wait for power to come back on.

Home Depot lost main power, but stayed open after employees siphoned gas from a company rental truck to power a generator, said an employee who wouldn't give his name.

Susan Clutz of Hagerstown said she couldn't do her Wal-Mart shopping, but she was able to pick up an item at Home Depot.

"I thought something horrible had happened with all the police around. I just came to do a little bit of shopping," Clutz said.

Police were helping with traffic.

"From everybody leaving at the same time, the parking lots were just packed, almost like a football stadium after the game," Murray, the police officer, said.

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