Power outage ended divorce for day, but no happy-ever-after story

OPPD worker Paul Latoza cuts damaged cable as crews work to restore power after an outage in downtown Omaha.

Updated 10:45 am.

About 100 customers remained without power early Monday, down from the 2,000 left powerless Sunday night after a fire in a manhole. OPPD says it is hopeful that downtown Omaha, including the Old Market area, will have power by tonight.

Power remains out from 11th Street to just west of 20th, from Leavenworth to Farnam as of 9 a.m. Monday. Omaha police officers are posted at busy intersections without traffic signals. Stop signs have placed at other downtown intersections.

Howard Street is closed between 17th and 18th Streets while OPPD crews work to make repairs in separate manholes.

The Omaha Police Department and the Douglas County Jail are operating on generators this morning. It's business as usual at both locations, police said.

OPPD's downtown headquarters is closed. The company is directing people with customer service inquiries (like paying pills) to other OPPD offices. The Metropolitan Utilities District headquarters at 17th and Harney Streets is also closed. Those with customer service inquiries should call 402-554-6666.

The Douglas County Courthouse is closed to until further notice, but those who are due in court today must report to the adjoining City/County Building. Failure to do so could result in an arrest warrant being issued, authorities said.

United Way's help line, 2-1-1, is off-line this morning.

Much of the Old Market and part of downtown Omaha was in the dark Sunday night and early Monday after an explosion and fire in a manhole near 17th Street and St. Mary's Avenue.

Omaha police and Omaha Public Power District officials warned motorists about Monday morning's commute into downtown, saying traffic lights in the area were still without power.

City of Omaha crews put out temporary stop signs at the downtown intersections that were affected. Also, police were on the scene at several intersections Monday, using their cruiser lights to slow traffic. Officials said dense fog in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa and wet streets certainly weren't helping the commute.

Some businesses were using backup generators Monday morning. A police spokesman said OPD headquarters at the southeast corner of 15th and Howard Streets had "limited power.''

About 2,000 customers — in an area stretching from about Harney to Spring Streets and Eighth to 26th Streets — were without electricity after the fire, which was reported about 5:45 p.m., said Paula Lukowski, a spokeswoman for OPPD.

Early Monday, she said about 100 customers, mostly businesses, were still without power.

Omaha police said Monday morning that the area still without power was from 11th to 20th Streets and Leavenworth to Farnam Streets.

Rachel Bolduc, 25, who lives in the Orpheum Towers apartments at at 16th and Harney Streets, said Monday that "the lights flickered for about 20 seconds Sunday night and then there was no power.''

She said she lost heat and lights in her apartment, so she as relying on "blankets and candles.''

"It's been a lot of fun,'' she said sarcastically.

A commuter from west Omaha, Debi Saldivar, 51, who works in the Metropolitan Utilities District building at 18th and Harney Streets, said the drive east on Interstate 80 to downtown was smooth, until she exited at Harney Street.

"It was a little scary when I got off on Harney with the fog and no lights,'' she said, but a police cruiser was at the intersection with its lights flashing.

OPPD's downtown headquarters was one of the buildings without power Sunday night. The skating events at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, north of the outage area, went on uninterrupted.

OPPD crews restored power to about 1,900 customers by 10 p.m. Sunday, Lukowski said. She said she did not know when the remaining customers would have electricity restored.

The customers may have numbered 2,000, but many more individuals were affected because a single customer could mean one large building with hundreds of people inside, like a hotel. At least one downtown hotel had to relocate its guests to other hotels because of the outage, Lukowski said.

OPPD was investigating what caused the fire, which took out a multicircuit power network in the manhole.

Sunday evening's darkness and fog cast an eeriness on downtown streets. Police flares substituted for street lights and traffic signals at some intersections.

Omaha police, concerned about the outage and fog, urged commuters to use extreme caution and to avoid the area if possible. Drivers were urged to slow down, make a full stop at intersections and make sure their path is clear of pedestrians and other vehicles before proceeding, said Lt. Darci Tierney, a police spokeswoman.

Lukowski said OPPD equipment in three manholes was damaged and needed to be replaced. She said the work was tedious and time-consuming for OPPD crews. She said OPPD would have a better assessment later Monday on when power might be restored.

Two OPPD crews were working in separate manholes Monday at 7:30 a.m. and had closed Howard Street between 17th and 18th Streets. A worker said the crews, which were disposing of burned electrical cables, were making progress.

No injuries have been reported, Lukowski said, and a cause for the outage had not been determined by early Monday.

Some pockets inside the outage area never lost electricity, including many businesses east of 12th Street in the Old Market. Other eateries and establishments had to make do without power, though.

Chefs at Blue Sushi Sake Grill, 416 S. 12th St., used cellphones and flashlights to finish making sushi rolls. Many customers were just leaving when the lights went out, but the remaining customers had to resort to their devices' lights, too.

The blackout gave fans of Omaha author Thom Sibbitt something to remember. He said he had just sat down to welcome about 65 guests at his book launching event at the Omaha Healing Arts Center, 1216 Howard St., when the power went out. Because the book, “The Turnpike,” was released digitally, Sibbitt read from an iPad and had no problems with having enough light.

Organizers rounded up candles to give light to others in the room. Sibbitt told his audience to be careful and look out for one another as they ate and sipped wine. Not one person left, and “we just had a beautiful candlelit reading,” the author said.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1304, news@owh.com

Staff writers Jay Withrow, Randi Stevenson and Henry Cordes contributed to this report.

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