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Seattle Downtown Darkened A Second Day After Fire Damages Transformers

September 1, 1988

SEATTLE (AP) _ Businesses scrambled to find emergency generators and city crews hustled to lay new cable Thursday, a day after a fire caused a 40-block blackout that officials feared could last until the weekend.

The fire, of undetermined origin, wrecked a double underground vault containing two transformers and switching equipment Wednesday, cutting electricity to much of the city’s retail, financial and hotel center.

Power can’t be restored before ″tomorrow evening or early Saturday,″ Julia Greenlee of Seattle City Light said Thursday.

″Friday evening is our target, and we’re pulling out all stops,″ said Marsha Iverson, another utility official.

The number of residents, workers, businesses and hotel guests affected by the outage was undetermined, said Hugh McIntosh, City Light’s chief spokesman. ″We’ve got about 40 blocks here, (with buildings) ranging from one story to 41 stories ... thin, fat, short and tall. It would take a week to count them all.″

City Light officials said it was utility’s worst outage ever, eclipsing an 80-block downtown blackout that was limited to five hours in 1966.

Police doubled patrols overnight and no looting or injuries were reported.

Uncounted hundreds of workers were sent home early Wednesday, many night spots were dark and some restaurants served free food rather than have it spoil. Numerous businesses remained closed Thursday.

With street lights and traffic signals dark, police directed traffic at most intersections during business hours and erected stop signs at other times.

Tangles of twisted, scorched cable littered Virginia Street, where the vault was located. A trailer bearing a spool of new cable was parked near a cluster of utility trucks.

Buildings affected by the outage ranged from Show World, featuring peep shows and nude dancers, to the palatial Cinerama, where showings of ″The Last Temptation of Christ″ were canceled - a feat fundamentalist protesters had failed to accomplish since the film opened a few weeks earlier.

Others fared better. David Sivinski, proprietor of a propane-powered popcorn wagon, said his booming business Wednesday night represented ″the revenge of low-tech.″

The Warwick Hotel staff bought 150 flashlights for guests, said Cyndy Sparhawk, director of sales. Emergency power was enough to maintain elevator service, hot water and hall lights but no room lights, said Kevin Klein, a front office assistant manager.

The fire knocked out two $35,000 transformers; six primary cables, each carrying 13,000 volts and feeding 15 transformers, and about two dozen secondary cables, each carrying 110 or 208 volts, said Gerd Jerochim, manager of underground operations and street lighting.

Electricity cannot be restored piecemeal, and at least five of the primary cables must be replaced for service to resume, Jerochim said. He said that if just one cable were reactivated, it would draw the electricity for all six and burn out. An estimated 3,000 feet of cable must be replaced.

Jerochim estimated the utility’s costs for labor, equipment and materials at $250,000, excluding police and firefighting expenses and private business losses.

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