Current collapse

March 17, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

Although it is typical for power companies to brace for outages when wintry conditions hit, there was not enough ice accumulation Tuesday to cause a major outage, a City Light Department spokesman said.

But a hardware malfunction that led to a utility pole fire off Dual Highway turned the lights out on thousands of residents and employees in eastern Hagerstown at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

"We were just in here trying to work and everything went out," said Dawk Hollister, owner of Smoker Friendly on Dual Highway, just a few hundred feet from the burned utility pole. "We're going to try to stay open until we can't see anymore."


Thousands of homes were without electricity after the top portion of a utility pole caught fire and snapped near the Zayre Substation, said Karl Kohler, administrative officer of the City Light Department.

Kohler said the outage was caused by a hardware malfunction which led to a fire on a cable and the utility pole. The fire caused the upper portion of the pole to snap, he said.

The substation, which is directly behind a strip of stores in the Ames Shopping Center off Dual Highway, is one of six that keep the city powered, Kohler said.

"Everything for a good part of the eastern part of the town, including the hospital, feeds through here," Kohler said.

Kohler said several hundred people were without electricity for less than an hour because power was rerouted from other substations. Although it initially was expected that 500 to 800 residents would be without power for several hours Tuesday evening, most of the power was restored by 5 p.m., he said.

A few businesses in the shopping center remained without power until about 8 p.m., Kohler said.

Traffic through much of eastern Hagerstown was slow and disorganized as traffic signals went out Tuesday afternoon.

Hagerstown Police Department officers directed traffic at the intersections of busier roads, including Eastern Boulevard and Dual Highway.

East Washington Street resident Barbara Myers said she was startled when power went out in her apartment.

"I had just put a roast in the over," Myers said. "I kept thinking, it'll be back on sooner or later."

Washington County Hospital employee Laurie Capell said power at the hospital was out for nearly one minute before backup generators kicked on.

"It's the first time I've seen everything go down," said Capell, a Boonsboro resident. "It was scary."

Many businesses were able to get back to work within an hour of the outage.

Papa John's Assistant Manager Ryan Kochel said the business likely would have lost three-fourths of its daily sales if power had not been restored in time for the dinner rush. Kochel said the pizza shop lost use of its phones, computers and ovens during the outage.

"We were completely dead," he said.

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