Nation

Squirrel causes power outage in downtown Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A curious squirrel is being blamed for a power failure that darkened City Hall, federal and state courthouses and businesses where thousands of people work in downtown Providence on Tuesday.

Traffic lights were also knocked out by the outage, and fire crews had to respond to alarms throughout downtown, including in some buildings where people were trapped in elevators. There were no reports of injuries.

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The power failure happened shortly after 10 a.m. and lasted until around 11:45 a.m. Around 4,500 customers were without power, National Grid said.

During that time, office workers milled around on the streets and waited for word on when they could return to their jobs. Many City Hall workers were sent home for the day. In federal court, closing arguments were interrupted in the bribery trial of a prominent developer, Richard Baccari, and the judge sent the jury home until Wednesday, when closing arguments from prosecutors are scheduled to resume.

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While they waited, some workers took the time off work to get a few things done.

‘‘My computer basically died. I figured I’d take advantage of that,’’ said Justin Bowers, on office worker sitting in a chair on a sidewalk outside a darkened downtown hair salon while Jennifer Ortiz cut his hair. Ortiz said she was cutting his hair ‘‘the old-fashioned way’’ with scissors, instead of an electric razor.

A fire official had initially told reporters there was an explosion in equipment at the Manchester Street Power Station, but National Grid and Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare said there was not.

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The problem started when a squirrel got into a metal pipe carrying electricity at the power station, damaging equipment there, National Grid spokesman David Graves said. There were reports of an explosion because the loud noise that occurred when the power released sounded like one, he added.

The power station, a substation and a portion of another substation shut down to prevent further damage, he said.

Graves said National Grid has devices to protect against animal damage, but not on every piece of equipment.

‘‘There’s too much out there and frankly too many squirrels,’’ he said. ‘‘They can squeeze into very small areas. It’s not impossible, but it’s very, very difficult to prevent it from happening throughout the entire system.’’

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