- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2006

A utility pole supported by live wires leaned precariously over a street in downtown Alexandria yesterday after thunderstorms disrupted electricity service to thousands of residents and businesses Thursday night.

Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) reported about 14,000 customers without electricity and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE) reported about 12,000 customers without power at 2 p.m. yesterday.

Dominion Virginia Power, which provides electricity for Northern Virginia, reported 60,000 customers in the dark after the storm, which contained heavy rain, lightning and winds up to nearly 40 mph in the metropolitan area.

“All the sudden — boom! The whole top of the thing exploded,” said J.R. Fioriti, who was at the Alexandria bar he owns late Thursday when the pole began to fall in the 100 block of West Street. “It started toppling slowly, slowly and it just stopped right there.”

The pole, which snapped at its base after a nearby tree fell into connected power lines, remained suspended yesterday at a 30-degree angle from the ground, held in place by lines connected to a nearby pole.

Vernon Bussie, a Dominion Virginia Power supervisor at the scene, said crews would shut power off in the block and replace the pole, or place a temporary pole alongside the damaged one to stabilize it. He said he expected the work to be done by 8 p.m. yesterday.

“We hate to see it happen, but it’s something we see all the time,” Mr. Bussie said.

Some businesses in the area were operating on partial power yesterday because of the downed lines.

Mr. Fioriti said the main item affected at his Stage Door Deli and Restaurant and the upstairs Laughing Lizard Lounge was a walk-in refrigerator that had lost power.

“The beer’s warm for Friday night,” he said.

At a UPS store in the block, owner Ralph Hammock said he planned to stay open, but that the downed lines had knocked out his phones.

“We’ll definitely be here,” he said. But “business is pretty much shot.”

All three utilities said they expected to have power restored sometime today.

Outages are inevitable despite the companies’ efforts to keep the lights on, officials said.

“You really can never totally prevent outages,” Pepco spokesman Bob Dobkin said. “We’re in the storm season and we prepare as best we can.”

Tree trimming and brush hacking are a major responsibility for the power companies. Mr. Dobkin said the D.C. area is considered the most heavily wooded urban area on the East Coast.

When outages occur, companies resort to technology that allows them to isolate the extent of the blackout. They often rely on technology that allows them to remotely switch a home’s energy source before the blackout spreads.

“We are always doing things to strengthen our grid system and improve our response time,” Dominion spokesman David Botkins said. “We’re always making a diligent effort to find out where an outage is, get there quickly and fix it quickly.”

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