Faulty cable leads to blackout

Michael Gsovksi

An underground explosion at 555 Clark St. caused 367 Evanston power consumers to lose power at 12:18 p.m. Wednesday, officials said.

A spokesperson for Commonwealth Edison said a preliminary investigation concluded that a faulty electrical cable caused the problem. The outage occurred after additional power was rerouted to the line late Tuesday night when a different incident cut off electricity to 575 customers.

Although ComEd reported that more than 20 buildings on Northwestern’s campus, including four residence halls and SPAC, lost power during the blackout, university officials said no major problems arose from the incident.

Police closed off the 500 block of Clark Street in the afternoon so personnel from NU Facilities Management, ComEd and the Evanston Fire Department could inspect the lines via a manhole between Hinman and Chicago Avenues.

The blackout caused many problems across campus before power was restored at 4:14 p.m.

An office building owned by NU, 1800 Sherman Ave., was evacuated after smoke from the nearby explosion entered the building from underground. Dan McAleer, assistant chief of University Police, said no permanent damage occurred to the building.

Deering Library lost all power except its emergency lighting, said Jack LaFreniere, who works in the art library.

“A lot of people come to look things up on the computer catalog and we had to send them all the way back to the main library,” the McCormick freshman said.

In Kresge Hall, Weinberg senior Jim Larson arrived at work only to find there was nothing to do.

“Only one in five lights was on in the hallway,” he said. “I went to do my work-study job at the French and Italian department and they told me I could go because they had no work for me.”

Professor Emile Okal spent an hour Wednesday morning restarting a data analysis system which crashed during Tuesday night’s blackout. For him, the disruption was a symptom of a larger problem.

“At other universities, power outages were not a hindrance to the academic life of the students of the faculty,” said the geology professor, who has studied at the California Institute of Technology and taught at Yale University. “It’s a disgrace, frankly, that we cannot rely on having reliable power in the 21st century.”

Okal said NU has lost power about twice a year in his 25-year career.

“When you talk to Northwestern, they blame it on ComEd and when you talk to ComEd, they of course blame it on Northwestern,” he said.

For many, however, the blackout was not a major issue.

“It was sort of a nice interruption from the monotony of Winter Quarter,” said Jonathan Schwartz, a Weinberg freshman. “Everybody had to talk to each other because no one wanted to stay in their room.”

Communication freshman Darrin Bedol said she wanted the lights to stay out for longer.

“I almost didn’t have to take a quiz because the power was out and my teacher couldn’t make copies,” she said.

Sean Walsh contributed reporting.

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