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Power Comes Back to Downtown Detroit After Widespread Outage

The power outage occurred around 10:30 a.m., and affected several buildings, including the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Hall of Justice.

Motown was humming again Tuesday afternoon after utility crews were able to turn the power back on in downtown Detroit following a widespread outage that shut down schools, government buildings and offices for several hours.

Courts halted trials. Confused drivers jammed intersections without working traffic lights. And thousands of people filed out of darkened buildings as emergency crews responded to reports of people trapped in elevators.

The power went out around 10:30 a.m. ET, leaving roughly 100 buildings without electricity, according to the city’s Public Lighting Department. By noon, the problem on the grid had been isolated.

DTE Energy, the power supplier assisting the city, said about 70 percent of customers should had their lights back on by 4 p.m., and full power was restored at 5:15 p.m.

City officials blamed the utility snafu on the aging infrastructure. There were two cable failures that led to the shutdown of the system although the exact cause remains under investigation, said Jerry Norcia, president and COO of DTE Energy. The utility is pouring about $200 million into the city’s system as it aims to take control of the grid from the Public Lighting Department in the next four years.

“There’s been so much neglected for so long. We have a lot to do,” Mayor Mike Duggan said at a news conference.

Officials also dismissed quips on social media that the power failure had to do with filing for bankruptcy last year — and having no money to pay its bills.

“I would say they’re uninformed. It didn’t have anything to do with that,” Duggan told reporters.

Despite the disruptions Tuesday, the city’s 911 service remained working. Emergency vehicles rushed to downtown structures to respond to reports of people stuck in elevators. City officials estimated at least eight to 10 people had been trapped.

With the elevators inoperable, workers in government buildings were forced to descend down darkened stairways. Employees were subsequently sent home early. The Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, the Joe Louis Arena and the Detroit Institute of Arts also closed their doors.

Generators, meanwhile, kicked in at some buildings, including the Detroit Receiving Hospital. The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice also reported power turning back on, but remained closed for the day.

Some professors continued teaching in the dark at Wayne State University, until the school decided to cancel all classes after 12:30 p.m.

Police officials told local media that there remains a contingency plan in place. “We are handling business as usual,” Sgt. Michael Woody told the Detroit News. “We will try to send officers to direct traffic at major intersections, but we don’t have the manpower to be at all intersections.”

Public schools let out early on a half-day dismissal, with after school and evening programs cancelled, district officials said.

City Council President Brenda Jones urged residents and commuters to be patient as power slowly returns. She also reminded city workers that the half-day was temporary: “Be prepared to go back to work tomorrow. You’re not going to have time off.”


— Erik Ortiz