D.C. Goes Dark: Power Outage In Washington

Washington was hit on Tuesday afternoon with a scattered power outage, cutting off electricity to the Capitol, subway lines, and museums. Fortunately for the city, the power outage in Washington was not due to a terrorist attack or plot of some kind, but rather an explosion in a Maryland power plant, according to local and federal officials.

Cause of the Power Outage In Washington

Spokeswoman for the Charles County Sheriff’s Department Diane Richardson said in a statement that the problem stemmed from the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative Ryceville power substation. It caught on fire a little after 12 p.m. on Tuesday due to a rogue spark from a transformer, causing power outages to over 21,000 customers according to the Southern Maryland Electric Company’s online power outage map.

The State Department had to continue its daily briefing in the dark, with reporters lighting up the room with their laptops and cell phones until backup generators for Capitol buildings kicked in. Director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, Chris Geldart, explained in a statement that any critically important building in the Capitol has backup generators that flip on if normal power is lost. The Wilson Building, which holds the offices of the mayor of D.C. and the D.C. council, was evacuated as a safety precaution.

Due to the power outage in Washington, metro stations were shut down, and visitors were evacuated from public places that may have been a choice for a terrorist attack, such as the Smithsonian, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Air and Space Museum. The University of Maryland shut down at 2 p.m., but not only due to the power outage, which made classes difficult; rescue crews needed to help people caught in elevators and locked buildings. Even Oprah got shut down while she gave a speech commemorating Maya Angelou’s inclusion into U.S. postage stamps.

FBI officials said at 2:30 p.m. that there is no evidence of foul play and that the power outage in Washington was simply an accident. Power came back on to the majority of facilities, either through a fix from the electric company (PEPCO) or by using backup generators. The metro system is running on an emergency generator, so while trains are working, escalators and elevators are not. A statement from PEPCO said that they were working to fix the problem.