City opens shelters as Durham power outage extends into second full day

Friday, January 19, 2024
Durham power outage to extend to midnight; city opening shelter
The estimated time to get power back on is now midnight as crews continue to work through the evening.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Power for much of east Durham has finally been restored.

Six Durham Public Schools were forced to cancel classes Thursday, as a large power outage extended into its second day.

Y.E. Smith, Merrick Moore, RN Harris, Burton, C.C. Spaulding, and Oak Grove elementary schools all had to close.

An equipment problem at a substation left an estimated 11,000 customers without power on Wednesday afternoon, Duke Energy said. Restoration was in progress Thursday night and about 1,000 customers were still in the dark at 11:00 p.m.

The utility company told ABC11 in an update that the power would not be restored for many until 6 p.m. Later the estimate was extended to midnight, though many customers have since seen their lights come.

Workers were doing maintenance at the substation site when the issue emerged, said Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks.

"We are exploring options to switch customers to other lines and restore service faster," Brooks said.

The outage affected customers in east-central Durham.

Late Thursday afternoon, Brooks said that the substation had been powered up and testing was underway.

Durham offers emergency shelter, other help

The Durham City-County Emergency Management Department opened an emergency shelter on Thursday.

The shelter is at the old Northern High School, 117 Tom Wilkinson Road, and opened at 8 p.m. and planned to stay open until power is restored.

Food and sleeping cots were provided for up to 150 residents in need. Residents should bring any medications and other personal clothing and hygiene items needed during their stay.

GoDurham will provide free transportation to the emergency shelter from its Wellons Village bus stop.

ALSO SEE: Here's how to report and check power outages in your area

The Durham County Main Library, 300 N. Roxboro St., served as a warming center until 8 p.m.

Other regional library branches operated as warming centers until 6 p.m.

Residents who need food are encouraged to contact Durham One Call at (919) 560-1200 until 5 p.m.

Durham Congregations in Action is also providing free food to Durham Housing Authority residents in the affected area. Residents who need free food may also visit Communities in Partnership at 101 S. Driver St.

Restoration times a moving target

Duke Energy originally expected restoration time to be about 4 p.m., Wednesday but then revised it based on repair time needed, Brooks said.

The loss of power came on a frigid day where the feels-like temperatures ranged from 5 to 15 degrees in the morning. Even by late afternoon, it was only in the high 30s in Durham, with feels-like temperatures in the 20s.

ALSO SEE: White flag shelters open as temperatures drop below freezing

"I feel awful because I'm coming home from work," said Velina Jones, Durham resident. "It's cold. I mean, it's like the coldest day of the year."

Velina Jones received a text message from Duke Energy, and she expected to have power restored by 7 p.m.

"I don't know if it's the infrastructure of all the new developments," said Jones. "But it is frustrating."

Duke Energy said the outage happened during maintenance and grid improvements. The company said it tried to find solutions such as rerouting customers.

"So in some instances, the geography of the grid allows us to serve that customer from a different direction," said Brooks. "And that allowed us to bring back more than 3,000 customers this evening. But as you get closer to where the outage is or possibly there are options to reroute based on where the lines go that may limit our ability to restore other customers."

Crews worked at a substation near Hoover and Ash to get things back online. At the same time, many people sat in cars with the heat on trying to stay warm. Duke Energy said it was looking to better understand what happened during the attempted substation upgrade, so an outage doesn't happen again.

"And we certainly understand how frustrated customers would be tonight when they're cold and want to get their power back," said Brooks.

DPS making choices about throwing out food

Because of the extended outage, Durham Public Schools said it was forced to throw out some food.

According to James Keaten, DPS Director of School Nutrition, food in refrigerators without power will last about 4 hours. Some of the foods in school refrigerators are stored there for quality, not for safety, such as fresh produce and bread products.

Keaten said those items should be fine, but other foods that require refrigeration for safety, such as dairy products, and proteins will need to be discarded.

He added that the USDA states that food in a closed freezer will maintain for 48 hours as long as the doors remain closed and DPS is still well under that threshold.

"If the food is OK, we will use the food," Keaten said. "If the power outage continues, we will remove the food to another school location so that frozen food is not lost."

DPS will not know until Friday how much food will be discarded.

The estimated time to get power back on is 6 p.m. though some may have to wait till later.