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Newark Airport Reopens After Blackout

January 11, 1995

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Planes resumed flying into and out of the nation’s ninth-busiest airport Tuesday after a daylong blackout caused by a construction accident.

``Electricity, what a wonderful invention,″ said Tom Swensen of Tallahassee, Fla. He was trying to catch a flight out of Newark International Airport to Denmark to visit relatives after his flight on Monday was canceled.

``I missed my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, so I was quite angry yesterday,″ he said. ``But what can you do? You can’t exactly drive to Denmark from here.″

The airport, which handles about 1,200 flights a day, was brought to a virtual standstill Monday morning when a construction pile driver severed three underground 26,000-volt cables.

Air traffic control was not affected, but there was no power for loading ramps, baggage handling or computers.

Departing flights were canceled. Incoming planes were diverted to other airports or sat on the tarmac waiting for portable boarding ramps and for Customs and immigration officials working without their computers.

Most of the people stranded at the airport were put up by the airlines at hotels or were transferred to other airports.

Power was restored by way of temporary cables, but airlines were still juggling schedules and canceling many flights Tuesday.

The accident took place at a construction site for a new car rental facility. Hertz Corp. said that the underground cables were not indicated on its blueprints and that their location was not accurately marked with flags.

``Whoever marked the power lines on the ground marked the wrong spot,″ said Edward Montefreddi, who was operating the pile driver for a subcontractor.

That was disputed by Public Service Electric & Gas Co., whose spokeswoman Priscilla Suber Brown said, ``We are confident that the area was marked out, in bright orange chalk and staked out with wooden stakes with an orange top.″

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, said it was looking into Hertz’s claims. It will present a report on the outage to its commissioners on Jan.19, said Stanley Brezenoff, executive director.

State officials investigated whether the contractor complied with a new law requiring a call to a hot line to determine the location of buried utility lines.

The law was enacted after a gas pipeline explosion last March in Edison leveled part of an apartment complex.