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Squirrel entry into power station causes city blackout

Thayer Street businesses, City Hall face two hours of disrupted electricity, U. buildings remain open

A squirrel that climbed into a metal pipe and made contact with an electric current in the Manchester Street Power Station, located in the Jewelry District, caused more than 4,500 Providence National Grid customers to lose power for about two hours Tuesday morning. 

Power outages usually occur in “bits and pieces,” but this one “knocked out the majority of downtown, which was unusual,” said Peter Gaynor, director of the Providence Emergency Management Agency and Office of Homeland Security.

At around 10:15 a.m., pedestrians heard what sounded like an explosion near Eddy and Point Streets, where the Manchester Street Power Station is located, the Providence Journal reported.

The Providence Fire Department arrived at the power station shortly thereafter and determined that at least two buildings in the power complex had damage to electrical equipment due to the incident, Deputy Assistant Fire Chief Joseph Desmarais said. Public Safety Commissioner Steven Parelater denied explosions occurred, the Boston Globe reported.

The “loud noise” that witnesses reported sounded like an explosion, but was actually the result of a power surge that was caused by the squirrel becoming entangled with the electrical pipe and an insulator, said National Grid spokesperson David Graves.

“The animal making the contact becomes the conductor and will carry the electricity,” Graves said.

Customers whose electricity relies on the Dyer Street and Franklin Square substations also lost power as a result of the incident, Graves said, because once the Manchester station’s electrical system recognized an imbalance, it caused a surge of power that affected the substations.

“Once we determined what the problem was, we were able to begin the process of restoration,” Graves said, adding that “a good chunk” of power returned by 11:40 am. Power was completely restored by around 1 p.m., he said.

“Everything was handled well, and there was nothing to report as far as injuries, so it was a good day,” Desmarais said. “Unfortunately, for the squirrel it wasn’t.”

The squirrel’s remains were found at the scene of the incident, the Journal reported.

While most equipment in the power stations is protected against wildlife, it is “very difficult to prevent” every squirrel from squeezing into small areas, Graves told the Journal.

Various College Hill businesses and some students’ off-campus houses lost power. The Starbucks on Thayer Street closed for about two hours, multiple sources reported.

City Hall, the Providence Biltmore Hotel and several federal and state courthouses and businesses were affected by the widespread outage, the Journal reported.

Eileen Ly ’15 said she didn’t notice the power in her off-campus house was off until she looked at the clock and saw it was no longer on. “I thought there was something wrong with our apartment, so I texted my roommate who said (the outage) was all over Providence.”

The rest of Ly’s day was not affected by the outage, as all of the University buildings she went to had power, she said.

The Brown Bookstore, which ran on a backup generator, did not experience any problems, Customer Service Associate Barry Dejasu said. He added that he only knew about the power outage because people came into the store and told him about it.

“I got really lucky,” said Amanda Weaver, the assistant manager at City Sports, who added that she had just exited an elevator when the power went out. “We are really pretty far behind for the day, as far as our sales goal goes,” Weaver said Tuesday afternoon.

Lisa Paquette, manager of Spectrum India, also said the outage affected the store’s revenue. When the power went out, Paquette “couldn’t see anything at all,” she said, adding that she had to tell customers to be careful while shopping in the dark.

Paquette said she tried to remove curtains from the windows to improve visibility for the customers, but it was still too dark to see.

During the outage, PEMA sent police officers to traffic light intersections without power and told residents via Twitter to be cautious, Gaynor said.

“Once the lights went down, everyone slowed down,” Desmarais said. “I think everyone was taking extra precautions … and they seemed extra polite.”

The fire department also had to respond to alarms going off around the downtown area, as well as incidents where people were stuck in elevators, Desmarais said.

Gaynor said one of his acquaintances was in an elevator for about an hour and a half before being rescued.


— Additional reporting by Kiki Barnes and Emma Jerzyk



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