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Power outage brings Washington to standstill

A power outage brought much of the nation's capital to a halt for more than two hours Friday, stranding commuters and leaving federal workers milling outside darkened buildings.
Power Outage
Workers at the Eisenhower Executive Building on the White House campus lounge outside Friday after losing power.Ron Edmonds / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

A power outage brought much of the nation's capital to a standstill for more than two hours Friday as the White House went to a backup generator, stranded commuters escaped the snarled Metro by trudging up stalled escalators and federal workers milled outside darkened buildings.

Frustrated officials muttered darkly about the "Friday the 13th" blackout as some government employees were given the rest of the day off. Pepco, the utility provider, reported power was restored to all customers before 11 a.m.

The power went out at 7:25 a.m., idling arriving office workers outside darkened workplaces. Two small fires on Metro tracks snarled morning subway commutes. It wasn't clear whether the fires were caused by power problems, which have been blamed in the past for track fires.

At one point, Pepco reported more than 18,000 customers without power. A single office building is one customer, and it was unclear how many affected were residential users, and how many were commercial customers.

The White House went smoothly to backup power.

"The White House had been running on generator power, and all essential functions were operational," deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said.

Pepco said the blackout occurred because a switch failed on a transformer at a substation in the Chinatown area. Spokesman Bob Dobkin said it was unclear why that occurred.

The outage cast Pepco's downtown headquarters into darkness though a generator provided power for some lights and phones.

"We certainly know what our customers are experiencing," Dobkin said at the time.

Elsewhere, traffic lights were knocked out, contributing to accidents in which two pedestrians were injured, said Alan Etter, a spokesman for District of Columbia fire and emergency medical services.

"Friday the 13th certainly is living up to its reputation," Etter said.

Fires delay Metro
Metro riders experienced long delays after two fires at the Metro Center station, which forced trains to share a single track. The first fire was reported at 7:24 a.m. and the second at about 9:50 a.m.

Spokeswoman Taryn McNeil said officials hadn't determined what caused the latest in a string of Metro woes.

On June 4, storms knocked power lines down on aboveground Metro tracks in the northern Virginia suburbs, delaying commuters for hours. A train derailment with no injuries followed Monday in those suburbs. Commuters on the same line were held up Wednesday when scorching heat warped rails.

On Friday, Metro also closed the Dupont Circle station because of a lack of power to run the escalators, which at 188 feet were deemed too long for passengers to handle.

Before the station closed, Etter said many people complained of breathing difficulties going up the steps. Nine people were treated, including a 50-year-old man taken to a hospital because of problems with his implanted defibrillator.

Meanwhile, some welcomed a long weekend.

Brian McDonald, a 27-year-old federal worker, said he stood for about an hour outside his darkened office building before being told he could go.

"I'm going to hit the links right now," he said.

Just then the lights came back on in his building, but McDonald was already gone.