Power failure throws Vancouver into darkness

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Last Updated: Wednesday 17 January 2001 TOP STORIES

Power failure throws city into darkness

Chris Nuttall-Smith Vancouver Sun A large chunk of Vancouver fell under darkness Tuesday night when power around the city died.

From the West End to Commercial Drive, Robson Street to Canada Place, people out in the streets looked up at the stars, and almost all of them wondered what exactly happened to the lights.

Much of the Greater Vancouver area was affected in some way, said Wayne Cousins, a B.C. Hydro spokesman, although most customers outside Vancouver city saw only a flicker or an outage lasting only a few minutes.

Cousins said the power went out after a Hydro switch failed in Burnaby.

The lights died around 10:45 p.m. and began coming up about 45 minutes later in the downtown core and minutes later in pockets around the northwest corner of the city.

Lights in the West End were still out after midnight. Cousins said the power should come on between 12:30 and 1 a.m.

Shortly after the lights first went out, Vancouver police cars were parked with lights flashing every few blocks along Robson Street, watching for trouble.

At the corner of Cambie and Water Streets in Gastown, Mike Donaghy and Bryan Carkner, Constables with the Vancouver police, sat watching traffic and pedestrians, and hoping there wouldn't be looting.

"It depends on how long it's going to be," Donaghy said just before 11 p.m. "You know if the idiots figure out what's happening..."

But there were no immediate reports of looting or violence.

At St. Paul's Hospital, a switchboard operator said the facility's back-up generator had spared the hospital any serious trouble.

"It was just chaotic when it did happen, but everything is fine now," he said.

The operator said security was on standby but there had been no trouble. He also reported normal patient loads at the hospital.

At intersections, most drivers used the four-way-stop procedure, and electric trolley buses were able to run despite the outage.

"I've been here 25 years but I've never seen a blackout like this," said Dave Cain, riding his bicycle along Hastings Street near Commercial Drive.

The scene in the downtown core was eerie. For the first time in most people's memory, it was possible to make out more than just a few stars above the city. Across the Burrard Inlet, North Vancouver, unaffected by the outage, seemed to glow in contrast to its downtown neighbour.

Robson Street was thrumming with the buzz of generators, a few alarms rang, and emergency lights inside commercial buildings bleeped on.

Bill McGowan and Barrie Penner were watching a video when the power failed and decided, for lack of a better idea, to go for a walk with Dex, their Beagle.

They two men walked to Canada Place, to Stanley Park and through the West End. They said they had not seen any trouble.

"There's a few people whooping and hollering here on Robson," Penner said, "but that's nothing."

Cousins, the Hydro spokesman, said he could not remember the last time that so much of the downtown core went out all at once. He said there have been isolated outages downtown in recent years because of weather, but not because of an equipment problem.

Still, Cousins added that Hydro's system worked the way it should after such a problem. Workers were able to track where the outage was caused, to begin fixing the switch, to ensure other equipment is okay, then to systematically bring the power back up, Cousins said.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), January 17, 2001

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