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Power Outage Hits Parts Of Downtown Washington

January 7, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A two-hour blackout paralyzed much of the nation’s capital Monday evening, trapping people in elevators and snarling rush hour traffic.

The outage hit at about 5:10 p.m. and lights began popping back on about an hour and 40 minutes later. All power was restored by 7:45 p.m., said Debra Leak, a spokeswoman for the Potomac Electric Power Co.

″What are you going to do? That’s life in the city,″ Tim Sheehy said of being stranded by the tangled traffic and having his commute home delayed.

Fire Department officials responded to some 80 cases of people stranded in elevators, officials said. At the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, workers were trapped behind electronic security doors that quit working when the power went out.

″We’re using candlelight and matches over here,″ said Victoria Clark, who was using the only working phone in the building.

Pepco officials said a 230,000 volt line failed somewhere between the company’s Potomac River generating station in Alexandria, Va., and the District of Columbia. A 480 megawatt generating station also failed and the cause was not known, the utility said.

About 18,000 customers were out of service, Pepco said, although one customer could be an entire office building. Traffic signals failed and, in some places, smoke rose from the manholes.

John Kwitkoski, a businessman who works in a downtown office building, stood in the middle of a heavily traveled downtown artery, K Street, directing traffic.

″Someone had to do it,″ said Kwitkoski, dressed in a suit and waving a flashlight he had bought at the Radio Shack on the corner. ″It’s a mess.″

J.L. O’Neil, a battalion fire chief, said that the outage caused a fire in electric cables under the streets near the Chinatown section of Washington.

He said the tunnels under 6th street were ″clogged with smoke,″ forcing firefighters to go several blocks away to fight the blaze and prevent it from spreading.

Kenny Tung stood calmly outside his Chinese restaurant which had an alarm bell ringing. Tung said he didn’t mind that patrons cleared out, but he was worried about refrigeration.

″We have meat. We’ll have to throw it away,″ he said. ″I’m worried.″

The city’s subway system said it had several people trapped in elevators at its Archives station and two at the Smithsonian subway stop. They were released within a half an hour.

Three downtown subway stations were blacked out, allowing people free rides as turnstiles stopped but trains continued to run, subway officials said.

George Washington University Hospital was blacked out, said a hospital operator who said emergency generators had kicked on.

The outage was spotty. The Supreme Court and Securities and Exchange Commission were darkened but the White House, the Capitol building and the Pentagon were unaffected.

″The lights flickered briefly, but we’re up and hard at work,″ said a staffer who answered the phone at the White House Press Office.

At the SEC, security officials evacuated the building when an emergency generator failed to start. City employees at the District building were

The Associated Press also lost power, forcing the Washington Bureau to file through backup computers.