Heat wave knocks out power to dozens of public buildings in Detroit

Wed Sep 11, 2013 7:17pm EDT

Downtown Detroit is seen looking south on Grand River Avenue in Detroit, Michigan July 25, 2013. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Downtown Detroit is seen looking south on Grand River Avenue in Detroit, Michigan July 25, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Rebecca Cook

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(Reuters) - Detroit's city hall and dozens of public buildings lost power on Wednesday after soaring temperatures overtaxed the aging system, highlighting the need for the city that filed for bankruptcy to get out of the power business, officials said.

The outages struck mainly in Detroit's central business district as temperatures reached into the 90s Fahrenheit (30s Celsius) for a second consecutive day, said Bill Nowling, spokesman for Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.

Detroit, which sought bankruptcy protection in July, provides power to about 200 customers, mostly government, university and business buildings. Detroit started in August to transfer the customers to DTE Energy Co, Nowling said.

"We need to be out of this business of delivering power and this is a prime example why," Nowling said. "We just don't have a modern grid that is able to handle the load in a thriving downtown business district."

Two of the five main lines that serve the downtown area lost power on Wednesday morning and officials made selective outages to preserve the grid, Nowling said.

"There was a risk of losing more lines coming into the grid and if that happens you run the risk of a larger power outage," Nowling said.

Detroit's combined city hall and county building was closed on Wednesday afternoon, along with a nearby courthouse, public library and museums, Nowling said. An elevated train that loops the downtown area also was shut down to preserve power.

The criminal courthouse was evacuated after courtrooms went dark on Wednesday afternoon and traffic lights in the downtown area were out during the evening rush hour, snarling traffic.

Temperatures reached 92 Fahrenheit (33 Celsius) on Wednesday afternoon at Detroit City Airport after hitting 96 F on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.

DTE Energy reported no outages, spokesman Scott Simons said.

The bulk of the outages started at about 1:30 p.m. EDT (1730 GMT) and the city hoped to restore power to its customers by Wednesday evening, Nowling said.

Wayne State University near downtown canceled classes after the outage cut power to 48 facilities, a little less than half the campus, university spokesman Matt Lockwood said. The rest of the campus is served by DTE Energy and was not affected, he said.

"This happens not infrequently on hot days like this," Lockwood said.

Lecture halls, administration buildings, the student center and parking structures lost power, while research labs and other critical operations ran on backup power. The university had not decided whether classes would resume Thursday, he said.

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis and Steve Neavling in Detroit; Editing by Greg McCune and Lisa Shumaker)

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