Power Outage Hits Chicago

Monday, October 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) — Stuck drawbridges trapped sailboats, elevators stalled between floors, and the leisurely weekend commute turned into a rush-hour traffic snarl when a 7-square-mile area of the nation's third largest city lost electrical service.

The power outage over most of downtown lasted about six hours Sunday, stranding tourists, shoppers and sports fans and angering officials who remember a series of embarrassing outages last year. In all, some 12,000 customers, mostly businesses, were without power.

Tourists like Sheila Branson and her three daughters, visiting from Midland, S.D., had nowhere to go as temperatures dropped into the 40s on a blustery October day.

``It's cold and we're hungry,'' Branson said. ``We don't know where to begin looking for somewhere that's open. It's an adventure.''

The blackout began about 12:45 p.m. after a new circuit breaker caught fire and exploded.

Police on foot tried to direct pedestrians and motorists through a maze of darkened traffic signals. In some areas, motorists drove up on sidewalks to reach side streets in an effort to escape the mess.

``Thank God this happened on a Sunday,'' said Officer Thomas Donegan, a police spokesman.

The blackout caught Commonwealth Edison by surprise. Recent upgrades by the utility company, costing $1.9 billion, included a circuit breaker for avoiding such severe service interruptions.

``The equipment we installed should have isolated this outage, but it did not,'' said Pam Strobel, a ComEd vice president. ``There are new controls that should have prevented this.''

In the summer of 1999, widespread outages sent Mayor Richard Daley into a rage and prompted a top ComEd official to resign.

ComEd officials say this blackout was unrelated to the 1999 outages. But state regulators say that is little comfort.

``This may be a huge anomaly or freak event — we don't know that,'' Illinois Commerce Commission spokesman David Farrell said. The company had promised reliable service ``over and over again,'' he said, adding, ``One of the fundamentals of a sophisticated, modern city is safe, reliable power.''

William Abolt, the city's environment commissioner who has blasted the utility for past outages, said the city would again demand answers.

``This really underscores the need for this company to aggressively complete the process of updating and transforming the current system so that power outages like this don't happen,'' he said.

No further problems were expected as workers returned downtown Monday morning, ComEd spokeswoman Judy Mitchell said.


On the Net:

ComEd: http://www.ucm.com/comed/main.asp

Illinois Commerce Commission: http://www.icc.state.il.us

Citizens Utility Board: http://www.cuboard.org