Blackout Hits Downtown Chicago
CHICAGO (AP) _ A fire at an electrical substation knocked out power to downtown for nearly six hours Sunday, tangling traffic, stranding shoppers and sports fans and raising new questions about the reliability of Commonwealth Edison.
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.
The Chicago Transit Authority shut down its subway and elevated trains because there was no power for its signal system, but the trains were able to reach stations first so no passengers were trapped. Fire officials said several people were rescued from stalled elevators.
``Thank God this happened on a Sunday,″ said Officer Thomas Donegan, a police department spokesman.
The power was knocked out about 12:45 p.m. when a circuit breaker at a ComEd substation overheated, exploding and scorching the adjacent breakers, said Fire Commissioner James Joyce. Officials said the power was fully restored by 6:30 p.m.
Officials said the substation where Sunday’s trouble began was the same one where problems forced ComEd to shut off power to the business district on Aug. 12, 1999, in the middle of a work day. That outage, following a string of earlier blackouts, brought national attention to ComEd, leading to the forced resignation of a top official and promises by the utility to upgrade its aging infrastructure.
At its height, Sunday’s outage left about 12,000 ComEd customers without power, said Pam Strobel, an executive vice president with the company.
William Abolt, Chicago’s environment commissioner who blasted the utility after last year’s outages, said the city would demand answers from ComEd.
``There shouldn’t be any loss of power like this,″ Abolt said. ``As soon as we have power back on we’ll start worrying about why it didn’t work and make sure it doesn’t happen again.″
John T. Hooker, a ComEd vice president for distribution, said most of the equipment at the station is new and the problem was not weather related. But he could not say what led to the outage.
As power began to return Sunday, police blocked cars from entering downtown, efforts complicated by the end of the Chicago Bears-New Orleans Saints football game at Soldier Field.
Some pedestrians had it just as bad.
Lori Ponton, 28, of Chicago, was able to get a train downtown after visiting her parents in the suburbs, but her boyfriend couldn’t reach her by car to take her home. She was stranded on Michigan Avenue with four luggage bags and a bewildered look on her face.
``I called the RTA to make sure everything was all right and they said there were no delays. I get up here and the police aren’t letting anybody down here,″ she said. ``I have no way of contacting my friend to tell him where to go, where to meet me.″
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