Power lines blow out leaving 1,800 in the dark

Published 12:58 am Sunday, May 2, 2010

Downtown Vicksburg remained without power Saturday night after a series of power lines blew out along Washington Street and an electrical substation near Horizon Casino emitted fire and smoke.

The chain reaction began about 4:30 p.m. — and for some customers, the outage will continue at least into this afternoon, Entergy spokesman Don Arnold said.

About 1,800 customers were without power at 8 Saturday evening, Arnold said, 15 percent of the 12,000 customers Entergy serves in the city. About 10,000 county customers were unaffected by the outage.

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“We’ve got about eight spans of wire down from the substation,” he said. “We’re trying to get some crews to help from outside of our area. It will be a pretty major job to get it all back up.”

The apparent cause was the failure of one of two large transformers at the substation. That caused a “back feed” of high voltage to run through power lines, burning the wires which were not adequate to carry the voltage, Arnold said.

Wires popped, sizzled and smoked and some lines were down on Mulberry Street, along Washington and at Cherry and South streets.

“We looked out the window and saw the fireworks — pow, pow, pow,” said Vicksburg fire Capt. Karl Minor, who was at Central Fire Station at the time.

Entergy crews were going to try to switch some customers to a different power feed, said Arnold, possibly restoring electricity to about half of them later Saturday night.

“For the other half, it’s going to be around noon,” he said.

Police Chief Walter Armstrong said extra patrols were called in to “keep a watchful eye” on downtown. “It will impact the budget, yes, but I think the benefit will outweigh the cost if we can prevent burglaries and so on.”

Power also was out from Clay Street to Mission 66, disabling traffic signals; in neighborhoods along East Avenue and MacArthur Street; the Marcus Bottom area; and along Cherry Street, including the Warren County Jail, which was operating on generators, Sheriff Martin Pace said.

Extra deputies also were called in for duty both to staff the jail and assist city police if necessary, Pace said. “Traffic is an issue. By state law, when the power is out at a stop light, drivers are required to treat it as a four-way stop sign, but people are out there going 30- to 40-miles-per-hour through intersections without even slowing down.”

Many who were downtown when the transformer failed said they heard an explosion.

Washington Street residents Ronnie Smith and Allison Merritt were in their home above Crown By Heels just east of the substation when they heard the loud noise. The building shook, Smith said. “I looked out and saw a blaze of fire. There was a cloud of smoke and a lot of electrical circuits popping.”

Businesses closed up shop early. For some that meant only 30 minutes of lost revenues, but for others the impact will be greater.

Duff’s Tavern was one of the area restaurants forced to close even before the Saturday night dinner and bar business could begin. Around 5 p.m., manager Ronnie Sanders came out to extinguish the gas lamps on either side of the restaurant’s front door.

“We can’t stay open like this,” he said.

For others, it could be the Sunday morning “business” that’s affected. Arnold said he would be calling downtown churches to let them know services might have to rely on a power greater than electricity.