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One way to look at the power outage that shut down the Douglas County Courthouse Monday: No one got divorced. No one sued. No one begged a judge or badgered a defendant or defended a badgering beggar.
Another way to look at it: tedium.
“It's like a snow day around here,” Judge Greg Schatz said. “What the heck do you do all day?”
Plenty of people were asking that question Monday as public agencies and private business in a chunk of downtown dealt with the fallout from a power outage caused by manhole fires Sunday evening.
“They're saying less than 200 customers are without power now,” Judge Russell Derr said as he stood in the cavernous courthouse at noon Monday, “but this is one pretty big customer.”
Indeed, the outage affected customers big and small.
At its height, more than 2,000 customers in an area stretching from about Harney to Spring Streets and from Eighth to 26th Streets were powerless.
OPPD crews restored power to about 1,900 customers by 10 p.m. Sunday, said Paula Lukowski, a spokeswoman for the utility. By Monday night, only about four customers still were without power.
Equipment in three manholes was damaged so severely by fire and heat that OPPD crews had to pull out and replace cables — a time-consuming process.
There were no injuries, but there was plenty of inconvenience — and even a little irony. The outage meant no power Monday at the downtown headquarters of OPPD and the Metropolitan Utilities District.
Patrick's Market owner discusses power outage
And it meant downtown restaurants and food stores were scrambling to salvage inventory.
At Patrick's Market, near 14th and Howard Streets, refrigerated food in open display cases spoiled quickly as their temperature shot above the FDA-recommended 40 degrees, said owner Patrick Andersen Jr.
Andersen said it will take several days to document what was spoiled and to file an insurance claim. He'll also have to restock the refrigerated shelves.
“But I'm not freaking out,” Andersen said Monday. “At this point there's nothing to really do but sit back and wait.”
At Ted & Wally's Ice Cream at 12th and Jackson Streets, the clocks stopped at 6:07 p.m. Sunday.
“That was the time of death,” owner Joe Pittack quipped.
Pittack sprang into action to save as much ice cream as possible. He turned to a generator supplied by his friends at Localmotive food truck to keep the cooler in the front of his store running.
As of Monday, Pittack had bought a little more than 10 gallons of gas to keep the ice cream frozen. He lost only a few containers, because the main freezers stayed cold. But the ice cream made that night was ruined because it never hardened.
“It's not been too bad,” Pittack said. “We lost some business, but we're coping.”
From his 12th-floor perch in the City-County Building, building administrator Paul Cohen marveled at how the power outage split the government complex. The courthouse had no power. But everything was aglow in the City-County Building.
“It's very strange to look across and see the courthouse dark,” Cohen said.
The power outage had its own strange sense of priorities: food first, security second.
The courthouse security scanner on the first floor sat lifeless. Fifteen paces west, however, the Paradise Bakery & Cafe food stand had full power.
The flavor of the day: “Jamaica Me Crazy.”
Courthouse security officer William Tapley could relate. Midmorning, a young man walked up to the airport-style security scanner.
“Courthouse is closed,” Tapley told him.
Nonplussed, the young man continued to pile stuff on the scanner belt. Turns out, telling someone that the courthouse is closed is like telling someone that McDonald's is out of fries. Or that Beyoncé lip-synced the national anthem.
It takes a while for it to register.
Tapley rested his forearms on the machine.
“Courthouse is closed,” Tapley said, more firmly this time. “If you have a court date, go up the escalators behind you to the (City-County Building).”
The young man shoved his stuff back in his pockets, then motioned back toward the 100-year-old courthouse.
“So I go up the escalator and it'll take me over there?” he asked.
“No one's going over there,” Tapley said. “They'll take care of you on the second floor.”
County court officials — who handle everything from estate matters to misdemeanors and traffic infractions — moved hearings to the handful of courtrooms in the City-County Building.
Administrators said there were very few no-shows.
Then again, many people hadn't even heard of the underground fire, the blown manhole covers and the power outage — until they arrived downtown.
Judge Schatz had. But it still didn't keep him away. Arriving at the courthouse, Schatz chanced it by taking the elevators to his fifth-floor courtroom. Back-up generators powered the elevators and a handful of emergency lights on each floor, Cohen said.
“They're saying nothing else is working — phones, lights, computers,” Schatz said.
The former prosecutor wanted proof. He ducked down the back hallway to his office and flicked the switch. Nothing. He ventured around the corner and flicked another switch. Nothing.
He then started to unlock the door to his chambers.
“What's the point?” he said.
He walked back to the elevators to another oddity of the empty building: The cavernous courthouse seemed loud. The voices of the few workers still there echoed from three floors below.
And there was a piercing, persistent reminder that power was out: A generator beeped slowly, steadily — its squeal bouncing off of the courthouse dome. That dome — circled with its paintings of American Indians hunting and farmers tilling — served as a reminder of a time when Americans actually could get stuff done without electricity.
Judge Marlon Polk briefly considered a throwback to that bygone era Monday.
Nearing the end of a malpractice trial, he checked and saw that his courtroom had no power and no heat but still had plenty of natural light. He considered having the lawyers and litigants work with only the aid of Monday's foggy daylight streaming through a south window.
But then he discovered that a few jurors already had been turned away at the courthouse door. So Polk postponed the trial to today — and administrators did the same in two other cases.
Sometimes, as it turns out, justice can wait.
World-Herald staff writers Nancy Gaarder and Kevin Cole contributed to this report.