- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

Sixteen merchants in the Chevy Chase Center will be without power until this evening due to the manhole explosion that dislodged bricks and spewed smoke Thursday afternoon.
Potomac Electric Power Co. officials said a 400-volt underground cable near the strip mall on Wisconsin Circle shorted, causing fire and smoke to blast through a manhole in front of a CVS Pharmacy and from a rectangular grate over a transformer near a Giant Food store. The shopping center is along the Maryland-D.C. border in Northwest.
Pepco is still investigating the cause of the blast, but spokesman Charles Taylor said heat may have been a factor.
"It's possible. It was a very hot day, and the demand on the system is high," Mr. Taylor said. "But it was not overloaded."
Sweltering heat was a problem again yesterday. At 4 p.m., the heat index at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was 95 degrees, and the combination of high temperatures and a Code Red ozone alert prompted the temporary closure of the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles inspection station in Southwest.
A few late-afternoon showers and thunderstorms peppered the area yesterday, but the National Weather Service forecast hot and humid conditions today and tomorrow, with temperatures in the low to mid-90s.
Mr. Taylor said the cables in Chevy Chase are not very old, and this incident is unlike the recent Georgetown manhole fires caused by aged wiring. That incident caused a four-day blackout and cost businesses along M Street NW an estimated $1 million in losses.
"This can happen almost anywhere. There are so many various causes. They don't all happen for the same reason," he said.
During the last year and a half, the District has seen more than two dozen underground explosions, manhole fires and dislodged covers. Some of the underground explosions were caused by a buildup of gases or smoke in tunnels, utility officials have said. Others have been sparked by electrical cables eroded by snow-removing chemicals.
No injuries have been reported in any of the explosions.
Mr. Taylor said there is a lot of work that has to be done. Crews will work nonstop to lay 500 feet of underground cable and perform several splices to connect the main cable to the individual businesses. They may need to splice from three to six lines per business, Mr. Taylor said, but he did not have an estimate on repair costs.
Giant Food is the only merchant open in the Chevy Chase Center, using a mobile emergency generator for power. Vice President of Public Affairs for Giant Food Inc. Barry Scher said the store lost some deli and produce merchandise Thursday night.
He said the company will address losses with its insurance carriers, but he is not sure whether it will file claims with Pepco.
Mr. Scher said the store will not lose power when electricity is restored to the neighborhood.
Ron Seligman works in the area and rushed out to run errands during lunchtime yesterday, to no avail.
"I was going to shop for medication in the area. I can't go to the bank either. I wanted to deposit my paycheck and I can't do that," he said. "It is very disappointing. They should have a backup plan. If there was an emergency, this would be serious."

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