- The Washington Times - Friday, June 15, 2001

Power may not be restored in Georgetown until Saturday, utility officials said yesterday.
Pepco crews scrambled yesterday to repair lines damaged a day earlier by manhole fires underneath M Street, but the destruction was more extensive than originally thought, officials said. The repairs shut down one of the Districts most important crosstown thoroughfares, bringing traffic to a crawl across Washington.
Meanwhile, city officials pleaded with fuming Georgetown residents and business owners for patience.
Pepco general manager for customer service Mike Sullivan blamed Wednesdays fires on the aged and corroded utility infrastructure and the high heat.
"On the first hot day of the year, you see some mechanical and electrical problems," Mr. Sullivan said. He said the fires have been concentrated in Georgetown because thats where the oldest utility lines are. In other areas, lines were updated in the 1970s, when many of the Metro tunnels were dug. "We have not done infrastructure improvements as we have in other parts of the city," Mr. Sullivan said.
About 1,600 customers in the Georgetown area have been without electricity since Wednesday afternoon after fire and smoke shot from vented manhole covers along the roadway. No one was hurt and no private property was damaged. Pepco said the fire probably started near the corner of 30th and M streets.
Utility crews have worked nonstop, according to officials, since Wednesday to fix the problems. Additional Pepco personnel were combing the area, telling people to turn off electrical equipment to avoid damage from a surge when electricity is finally turned back on.
Traffic on M Street NW from 28th to 31st streets stalled as only outbound lanes were open last night. M Street was closed last night after rush hour to allow crews to operate and is expected to partially reopen this morning for inbound traffic. Meanwhile, police were out in force in the area, directing traffic on all streets affected by the closing including K Street, Wisconsin Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue and the approaches to Interstate 66.
"This is a serious situation affecting an incredibly important part of the Districts transportation and business," said Dan Tangherlini, director of the Districts division of transportation. "The slightest disruption causes tremendous damage to traffic patterns all over the city. Its a mess."
During rush hour last night, traffic flowed slowly outbound but Whitehurst Freeway and Key Bridge traffic backed up, according to Cmdr. Peter Newsham with the D.C. police department. "There are lots of problems on back streets," he said. "People are used to commuting a certain way."
D.C. Emergency Management officials delivered more than 10,000 pounds of dry ice to the M Street Amoco station for residents. A cooling station at Duke Ellington School of the Arts distributed water to thirsty residents while Metro buses were brought in Wednesday and yesterday nights to provide citizens a cool spot with air conditioning.
Some shops remained closed yesterday after closing Wednesday afternoon. The Four Seasons Hotel became an oasis on M Street as it provided water and popsicles to guests yesterday. Employees there restored full power to the hotel last night using two trailer-size 1,800-amp generators.
"Some guests were tickled that the whole lobby was lit up by candlelight [Wednesday] night," said Christopher Hunsberger, general manager and regional vice president.
Attorney Percy W. Woofter, who owns the First Union building across the street, said he is going to have an emergency generator installed for the building so his practice, and business tenants can resume work.
Nearby, Dorothy Lavezzo yesterday brought her parents from their M Street home to her Watergate apartment. Her mother, Jean Lavezzo, is asthmatic and needs an electrical oxygen pump to help her breathe.
"I was going to do it last night, but they wanted to protect their things," Dorothy said, explaining the heat had become unbearable.
Unfortunately, outages have become common to the area. The manhole incident was one of at least eight incidents this year.
Part of the problem is the aging infrastructure in Georgetown, which unlike other areas, has not been replaced because of an incoming Metro station. Georgetown residents rejected having a Metro station in their neighborhood more than 40 years ago, but Metro planners are discussing the option to have a Georgetown stop added over the next 25 years.
City officials are not waiting for a Georgetown subway station to update utility lines.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said yesterday that all plans for a $30 million renovation of the lines were approved and construction will begin in four to six weeks instead of in the fall, as initially planned. The process will take 12 to 14 months.
"We can start moving in this faster, so were going to do it," Mr. Evans said. "Theres more of a sense of urgency now."
Plans were slowed by opposition from business owners in the area concerned their shops would be hurt by lane closures. Mr. Evans said the construction will be done a block at a time to assure minimal traffic tie-ups.
Many restaurateurs hope the blackout wont spoil business this weekend.
Susan Schwarz, assistant director of operations for La Madeline Restaurant on M Street, said short outages occur regularly although most last less than two hours.
"Its amazing they let [the wires] get this old," Ms. Schwarz said.
She said refrigerated trucks were coming from other locations to save some food products, but most frozen food will have to be discarded.
Many produce delivery workers were turned away from storefronts. Joseph Smith, deliveryman for Keany Produce Co., tried to bring a shipment to Mendocino Grille & Wine Bar but was denied.
"They said their insurance will pay [for spoiled merchandise], but their insurance will go up. Now we will get a loss," Mr. Smith said.
Instead of serving customers, Ben Ben, manager of Paper Moon Restaurant, threw trash bags full of rotten meat, dairy products and frozen foods into a trash bin. Anything salvageable was sent to a sister restaurant on Wisconsin Avenue.
"Its not good," said Mr. Ben. "We are losing a lot of money and tomorrow is the weekend. Most businesses do the most [business] on the weekend. Its very, very bad."

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