Outage interrupts life in central city

Tuesday, December 11, 2007 | 4:49 p.m. CST; updated 7:22 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

COLUMBIA — A popping noise, then darkness. A clicking sound, followed by sudden silence.

These were the noises many Columbia residents heard as their power went out Monday night.

The culprit was a tree limb falling on a power line, which left about 2,900 people without electricity for about an hour, said Connie Kacprowicz, public information specialist for the Water and Light Department. The affected area, which included part of Broadway, extended from Garth Avenue to West Boulevard and Stewart Road to Worley Street.

At 8:45 p.m. Monday, the tree limb hit the line, causing the electrical circuit to go down.

Rock Bridge student Cara Miller, 16, lives with her family in the area said she was working on her biology homework in the living room when all the appliances around her stopped.

“Suddenly everything went off,” Miller said. “Our heating stopped, so it made a sound, you know, like a generator running down.”

The protective device that normally confines the outage to a small area was frozen and didn’t act correctly, causing a much larger group of houses to lose power, Kacprowicz said.

“We heard that pop, but we couldn’t decide what it was,” said Bill Berry, who lives in the affected area. “It sounded like it was nearby. But I recall one other time when a transformer went out. It sounded like that.”

Joey Simpson said the power went out at a very opportune moment.

“Me and my buddies were playing darts,” Simpson said. “I was doing terrible cause my brother’s a dart whiz. Actually, it was a stroke of luck, because just as he was about to beat me, the lights went out.”

The strangest part of the outage for Simpson was walking down the street and not seeing familiar signs of habitation in the houses.

“You don’t see the eerie glow of the lights in the houses as you walk down the street,” Simpson said.

Electrical crews replaced the frozen protective device in about an hour, restoring power to a majority of the houses. It took the crews another hour to locate the circuit and fix the damage the limb caused, leaving 40 to 50 houses along the Broadway corridor without power until 10:45 p.m.

Berry was one of those residents without power for about two hours. However, he found productive ways to pass the time.

“To tell you the truth I went to sleep,” Berry said with a laugh. “We had no problems. I sat here in the dark with the dog on my lap, because we just thought they’d come back right away. It was late enough in the evening that we didn’t really need to go out.”

For Miller, her biggest concern was that she wouldn’t be able to finish her homework.

“I thought we’d have school today, so I was kind of freaking out about not doing it,” Miller said.

She ended up doing her homework by candlelight while her parents went to bed. It didn’t matter, though, because Columbia Public Schools canceled classes again Tuesday.

“I guess it was annoying, but a little exciting, because we didn’t really know what happened,” Miller said.

The Walgreens at Providence and Broadway also lost power for about two hours, said Ryan Flynn, one of the managers.

Walgreen’s electrical doors were operated manually, and backup lights came on when the regular lights failed. Shoppers were still able to buy all the winter weather gear they needed, which has been “selling like crazy,” Flynn said.

In fact the biggest problem Walgreens had during the time was ringing up purchases at the register.

“We couldn’t accept debit or credit, just cash,” Flynn said.

Several people remembered seeing the trucks containing the electrical crew driving by their houses to fix the problems.

“As we saw last night, severe weather takes its toll on the system,” Kacprowicz said. “The system is stressed more than it would be. But we’ve been fortunate that we’ve had as few outages as we’ve had.”

And despite the small annoyances of the evening, Berry only had good words for the city.

“You know, I’ve always been impressed because our city crew gets on things like this right away,” Berry said. “We get a quick response over here.”

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