NJ Power failures accompany spring heat

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Power failures accompany spring heat Friday, June 2, 200


Power cable failures at a transformer in Fair Lawn triggered electricity outages for 11,000 customers in nine Bergen County towns Thursday, forced a hospital to rely on backup generators, and prompted a major mall to close early.

By 5 p.m., all but two of the towns -- Westwood and Paramus -- had partial or full power restored, said Kathy Ellis, a spokeswoman for Public Service Electric and Gas Co. The utility brought those two towns on line shortly after 8 p.m., in time to power air conditioners for today's continued upper-80s heat and expected surge in humidity.

The utility was not sure what caused two cables to fail about 2:30 p.m., but workers ruled out high demand on the first sultry day of the week. The high at Teterboro Airport on Thursday was 89.

"We do know it was not heat-related," Ellis said.

She said that as two transformer cables failed, demand grew at substations that serve about 11,000 customers in Park Ridge, Westwood, Emerson, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Elmwood Park, Rochelle Park, Maywood, and Garfield.

At the 291-bed Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood, a handful of elective surgeries were canceled about 4 p.m., said Amelia Duggan, director of public relations.

"We have all essential services, and we are running on backup power," Duggan said.

The hospital was without air conditioning, but no one was complaining of discomfort, Duggan said.

"So far we're OK," she said at 5:30 p.m. Full power was restored as of 7 p.m.

In Park Ridge, Margaret Frontera was grateful to be home after a tricky drive from Westwood.

"In the middle of Westwood there's a policeman standing there because the light is out, and traffic is really backed up on Old Hook Road," Frontera said.

Firefighters, too, were kept busy in some locations.

At 2:30 p.m., Paramus Fire Chief Sean Benson was called to Garden State Plaza, where he found no flames -- only ringing alarms tripped by power outages. He returned to his office only to discover that the problem had spread beyond the mall.

"I'm sitting in the dark here now," Benson said at 4:15 p.m.

At the mall about 4 p.m., hapless store clerks and shoppers sat on benches and wondered what was going on. No electricity meant no air conditioning -- and no ringing cash registers.

"I was just returning something, and all the lights went out," said Natalie Maximov, 20, of Fair Lawn. "They said, 'Store's closed,' " she said, with a wave of her hand.

Outside Brooks Bros., would-be shoppers gabbed on cellular phones. At a mostly dark Neiman Marcus, the big activity was in cosmetics, with makeovers and perfume samples in big demand.

At California Pizza Kitchen, server Danielle Barone of Garfield arrived for her shift to find co-workers playing cards.

"You can't even eat," Barone said. "You can't even slice a piece of bread if you want it."

At the Orologio watch store, assistant manager Justin Merchant, 21, of Bergenfield sat on a folding chair and fanned himself with a magazine. Merchants were left wondering what was happening, said Merchant and a co-worker, Greg Duncan, 25, of Allendale.

Duncan said a security guard was no help.

"I asked him what was happening and he said, 'I don't know,' " Duncan said.

At 5 p.m., mall managers decided to close after learning that PSE&G would need a few more hours to restore full power, said Lisa Wolstromer, marketing director for Garden State Plaza.

Although Paramus Park, another major mall, was affected by power problems, it remained open for business. But a worker at a cellular-phone sales booth said few customers chose to stick around with the lights going on and off about every half-hour.

At the Lighting Superstore on Route 17, manager Brian Creeley -- usually surrounded by 5,000 bright lamps and fixtures -- endured 90 minutes of darkness.

"This wasn't exactly the best business to be in during a blackout," Creeley said. "People were wondering why all our lamps went out."

Staff Writer Teresa M. McAleavy contributed to this article. Staff Writer Ashanti Alvarez's e-mail address is alvarez@bergen.com. Staff Writer Elise Young's e-mail address is younge@bergen.com


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 02, 2000

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