Blackout hits half of Juneau

Douglas power out for more than an hour

Posted: Sunday, December 10, 2000

A rush-hour blackout Friday evening knocked out half the power and lights in town, forcing Mendenhall Valley merchants to lose some business but inspiring one Douglas couple to have a special candlelight dinner.

The power failed at 5:17 p.m., with many workers going home and shoppers heading to the malls.

While the lights stayed on downtown, the valley and Douglas plunged into darkness.

"The system virtually separated down the middle," said Peter Bibb, director of consumer affairs for the Alaska Electric Light and Power Co. "The worst thing was the timing. It's after 5 o'clock and everybody's trying to get from point A to point B."

Power was restored 29 minutes later along the corridor from Bartlett Regional Hospital on Hospital Drive to the Juneau Pioneers' Home on Glacier Highway. Then came the valley and finally Douglas about 80 minutes after the blackout began.

Despite the darkness and slick road conditions, Juneau police had no reports of accidents or other traffic problems.

Bibb said an overloaded high-voltage line with a faulty connection apparently failed during peak use, somewhere between downtown and Salmon Creek. The power company usually has two main power lines, but one was offline while workers replaced poles.

"This was a fluke," Bibb said. "Normally one line has no problem carrying the load this time of the season."

"So what we've done is put the second line back in service and it's holding up fine," he added.

Jensen's Home Furnishings had to close its doors a few hours earlier Friday night. The store, which is usually open unil 9 p.m. on weekdays, closed soon after the power outage.

Three employees and about eight customers had to leave earlier than expected.

"Everything went pitch-black and it completely knocked out our computers," Jensen's Sean Welch said. "I ended up doing my paperwork with flashlights all over the counter."

Rob Lee, the assistant manager of Kay Bee Toys at the Nugget Mall, said most shoppers just milled around. Some left, but others hung around to shop.

"We basically lost an hour worth of selling time," Lee said.

Many of the major stores and supermarkets have back-up systems to mitigate problems during power outages.

Super Bear Supermarket manager Craig Walsh said the store's generator kicked on within two minutes.

"It does affect us mainly because people don't leave the house, assuming businesses are closed because the power is out," Walsh pointed out.

Costco had about 75 customers when its emergency generator kicked in. The store was able to deal with the customers already there, but shoppers were turned away halfway through the blackout. The store doesn't have enough power to maintain refrigeration after several hours.

"Our main concern was the stability of products in chill or freeze areas," manager Larry Toth said.

While the power outage frustrated some, one Douglas family decided to have a special family dinner even though they didn't have the power to cook.

"We ended up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by candlelight," said Pam Johansen, who lives just north of the Douglas Highway on Simpson Avenue

Mike Sica can be reached at msica@juneauempire.com



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