WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Problems at a Maryland electrical station caused widespread power outages across the nation’s capital Tuesday, affecting the White House, the Capitol, museums, train stations and other sites.
Many of the outages were brief, but some were longer and forced evacuations. Officials said a mechanical failure at a transfer station led to the outages, and terrorism was not suspected. Tens of thousands of customers lost power.
At the White House, the interruption last only a few seconds before backup generators kicked on. The complex quickly went back onto regular power. Electricity in the press briefing room dipped around lunchtime, briefly darkening cubicles and blackening TV screens.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he was with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office when the power blip occurred, and they didn’t notice anything unusual.
Power also went out at the State Department during the daily press briefing, forcing spokeswoman Marie Harf to finish her comments in the dark.
Power in the U.S. Capitol building twice shut down briefly, and then came back on by way of a generator.
The mechanical failure occurred shortly before 1 p.m. at a transfer station some 35 miles southeast of D.C. in Charles County that is controlled by utilities serving D.C. and southern Maryland. Homeland security officials in D.C. and Maryland said there was an explosion at the station. No one was injured, the utilities said.
Some effects of the outages were still apparent later Tuesday afternoon. Some traffic lights were out, and Metro said 14 of its 91 public transit stations were affected. Power to the trains remained on and trains were moving, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said, but the affected stations were on emergency power, with dimmer lighting and nonworking elevators and escalators.
Some Smithsonian museums also lost power, were evacuated and closed to the public, including the popular National Air and Space Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, a spokeswoman said.
Thousands of tourists spilled from the museums onto the National Mall. It’s a busy time of year for tourism as spring brings both better weather and the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which draws thousands to look at the pink-budded trees.
In a statement released later Tuesday afternoon, SMECO said the explosion was caused by a transmission conductor that broke free from its support structure and fell to the ground.
University of Maryland’s campus in College Park closed at 2 p.m. due to the outage.
Power was restored to the entire campus around 4:50 p.m.
Prince George’s Co. Fire says it conducted several elevator rescues on campus soon after the outage.
By officials’ counts, at least 28,000 customers in the metro area were affected.
Metro stations across the D.C. area also dealt with outages. Power has since been restored to all stations.
Bethesda Metro station was closed for six hours because of an escalator outage caused by the power surge.
Pepco says the power outages were caused by a dip in voltage around 1 p.m. The dip was caused by an issue with a transmission line.
As of 6:25 p.m., there were about 35 Pepco customers without power, according to an outage map.
Pepco estimates power won’t be restored to some areas until Wednesday morning.
A Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative media relations person told WNEW’s Cameron Thompson that they have restored power to some of their customers.
The SMECO outage map shows only about 25 customers are still without power.
The Smithsonian tweeted that the outage was affecting some of its museums, and they were evacuated.
Power has since been restored to all of its museums.