Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

April 28, 2013

In the dark

Failed substation kills power for over 3,600 locations

By Carson Gerber
Tribune staff writer

— A slew of businesses near U.S. 31 and downtown Kokomo went black Sunday afternoon and left shoppers in darkness after a large-scale power outage knocked out electricity to over 3,600 locations in the city, as well as traffic lights along major streets and highways.

Duke Energy representatives said the outage occurred around 1:10 p.m. after an insulator failed at a substation just east of U.S. 31 on East Sycamore Street. The failure may have been caused by a lighting strike, they said.

The company reported power was fully restored throughout the city around 5:15 p.m.

Traffic lights all along U.S. 31 stopped working after the outage, causing traffic to come to a virtual stand-still until police and other emergency personnel were dispatched to guide traffic through busy intersections at places like Markland Avenue and Sycamore Street.

Many businesses locked their doors during the event, taping up signs saying they were closed due to a power outage. Business parking lots all along U.S. 31 sat empty as people were ushered outside and forced to leave.

Half the stores in Markland Mall went dark. Electricity remained on in the other half, leaving the corridors of the mall in an eerie half-light.

Walmart closed during part of the outage, and employees at Best Buy stood guard at the doors to turn customers away. Meijer turned on generators and covered up their refrigerators to keep cold items from thawing.

Not every business decided to close up shop, however.

Erin Wynn from Rochester said she was inside Bed, Bath and Beyond when the lights went out, but employees brought out flashlights and let customers continue shopping. She said some customers used flashlights on their phones to peruse the aisles.

“We kept shopping, but it was kind of a strange feeling,” she said.

Storybook Express convenience store, 316 E. Sycamore St., stayed open too, selling food and cigarettes and writing down the prices. The store was only accepting cash.

“It’s business as usual, we’re just sitting in the dark,” said store owner Charnpreet Kaur, noting they could likely salvage most of the frozen items despite the outage.

Power came back gradually throughout the city. Electricity to most downtown locations was restored around 3:30 p.m. Nearly all the traffic lights were up and running by 4:45 p.m.

“This was a significant outage, but it’s something that has occurred in the past in Kokomo, particularity during storms,” said Angeline Protogere, a spokesperson for Duke Energy.

Over 3,600 locations went dark in Boone County around the same time as Kokomo after officials say a squirrel got into equipment at a substation. Protogere said the two outages were not related.

Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He may be reached at 765-854-6739, or by email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.

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