Outage closes Detroit schools

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Wednesday June 14 7:59 AM ET

Outage Closes Detroit Schools

By JIM SUHR, Associated Press Writer

DETROIT (AP) - Crews worked through the night to slowly restore power in municipal buildings, schools, police stations and jails left in the dark after a cable problem knocked out a power station.

The outage at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday trapped people in elevators and on elevated trains and turned some intersections into traffic free-for-alls at rush hour. School ended early, city workers went home, court hearings adjourned unexpectedly and inmates were put on lockdown.

Residential and non-public customers in the nation's 10th-largest city did not lose power.

``We felt pretty lucky that no one was hurt,'' mayoral spokesman Greg Bowens said. ``We had the biggest power outage in the city's history during the busiest time of the day.''

By Tuesday night, power had been restored to half of the 1,400 city- and county-owned buildings - all primarily in the downtown area - a few traffic and street lights and a hospital.

Detroit City Airport's tower operated with emergency transceivers, but passengers had to be searched by hand-held metal detectors.

Power was expected to be fully restored Wednesday morning. But by 6 a.m., most of the city's 263 public schools remained without electricity and thus classes were canceled for the district's 170,000 students.

``The situation is really not very promising,'' schools spokesman Stan Childress said. ``They are not really sure they can have power restored in 24 hours.''

Though some city blocks completely without power remained eerily dark overnight, others were illuminated by light beaming through the windows and doors of nightclubs and stores that never lost electricity.

The blackout was primarily in the downtown area but stop lights were out around the city of 1 million. During the day, police cadets in khaki shirts and pants helped officers direct traffic.

Authorities erected stop signs and asked motorists to treat intersections without signs or officers present as four-way stops, and in many cases drivers inched up and signaled one another to go forward or make a turn. Some drivers barreled through without stopping.

Repairs on one of three tie-lines that connect the Public Lighting Department to Detroit Edison were under way when a second failed Tuesday, said Mayor Dennis Archer.

When the remaining line could not handle the load, the city's entire generating system shut down, he said.

Detroit Edison officials said they warned the city to scale back power usage after the first tie-in line failed Monday. Lew Layton, a spokesman for the utility, told The Detroit News the city was in the process of scaling back but ``it was not quick enough, and when it warmed up outside the second cable failed.''

``It's pretty old equipment and the equipment failed. There's really not much more we can say about that,'' Bowens said.

Archer called the outage ``a tremendous inconvenience I understand, but it was not man-made.''

``It was something that just occurred,'' he said.

When the blackout hit, passengers on the downtown elevated rail system were trapped for 30 minutes until they were rescued by firefighters.

The darkness also trapped 41 second-graders in the Detroit Historical Museum's basement. The pupils waited in the dark until a tour guide found a flashlight and led them to the exit.

``It was a little scary at first and it was really dark, but we got them out with flashlights through a side door,'' guide Diana Redmon told the News.

The blackout also affected some senior citizen housing complexes, but backup generators the city bought as part of its Y2K preparations kept them from being in the dark.

The police department operated on backup generators, and the 911 emergency system was not affected. All police runs were being dispatched from the precincts, though they normally would come out of headquarters.

``We're not taking any chances, we're dispatching manually,'' said deputy Police Chief Paula Bridges.

The problems didn't keep Detroit Tigers fans away from Comerica Park, where Tuesday night's game, a 16-3 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, was fully illuminated.

Afterward, fans who streamed out of the ballpark walked the dark downtown streets toward their vehicles, most appearing undaunted by the street lights that weren't working.

``It's actually kind of cool,'' said Jeff Jegersky of Oakland County's Bloomfield Township. ``Everything's kind of lively, isn't it? It's kind of nice.''

-- (in@the.news), June 17, 2000

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