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Power outage was caused by 'perfect storm' of events

A car crash on Highway 20 near Sedro-Woolley last night knocked out power to four north Puget Sound counties, including San Juan, leaving residents and businesses in some areas without electricity for more than four hours.

Power went out at 5:44 p.m. across San Juan County and was back on line in most places by 9 p.m. Residents of Olga on Orcas Island waited another 30 minutes until power was restored in that area.

Areas of Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties were also affected by the outage.

All four occupants in the car survived the crash, according to the Skagit Valley Herald, and one was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

Randy Cornelius, general manager of Orcas Power and Light Cooperative, said the extent of the power outage, which affected 93,000 customers in Island and Skagit counties alone, was the result of a set of unusual circumstances.

The car crash occurred in a area where one of two parallel transmission lines had already been taken off-line for maintenance by Puget Sound Energy. The crash took out a power pole and the remaining line and, with it, any immediate remedy for re-routing its supply of power.

"What we've heard from PSE is there were two transmission lines running side by side and one already was down for maintenance," Cornelius said. "I have to admit that it was pretty unusual. It looks like more than just one thing was responsible for this outage."

(OPALCO spokeswoman Suzanne Olson today clarified that PSE has three transmission lines in the area, and that one was down for routine maintenance at the time of the crash, which knocked out power to the other two that run side-by-side).

According to Cornelius, OPALCO was asked by the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency which supplies power to the region, to reduce its electrical demand in order to assist PSE with re-routing and restoring power throughout the region. Power in some areas of Island and Skagit counties was back online by 7:30 p.m. Others remained in the dark until about midnight.

The outage also affected the Shell and Tesoro oil refineries near Anacortes, where production equipment, according to Associated Press reports, automatically shut down when power supplies were disrupted.

According to the AP, refinery spokesman said the outage caused oil products to be burned off, as designed, causing visible smoke and flame, but no injuries or oil leaks or spills. Power was restored to the refineries before 8 p.m.

In the event of future outages, Cornelius encourages islanders tune into AM radio stations, such as KBRC, at 1430 on the AM dial for information, or, if possible, look for updates on OPALCO's Web page, www.opalco.com.

Read other stories in Skagit Valley Herald and The Seattle Times.

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