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150 homes zapped

Power surge zaps appliances in Scotia homes

Monday, September 23, 2013
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150 homes zapped


Rhena Marhafer MacDonald, of 127 Lark St. in Scotia heads to the curb with a dehumidifier that burned out due to a power surge in the area on Saturday. She lost two coffee pots also in the surge.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Rhena Marhafer MacDonald, of 127 Lark St. in Scotia heads to the curb with a dehumidifier that burned out due to a power surge in the area on Saturday. She lost two coffee pots also in the surge.

— Pam Yagielski spent nearly two hours wondering whether her Lark Street home was going to burst into flames Saturday.

Late in the afternoon, the neighborhood lost power and she could hear loud popping noises coming from the utility poles. Inside her home, the electrical outlets sizzled and her appliances popped.

“We were wandering around trying to make sure nothing was on fire,” she recalled Monday.

National Grid initially warned residents of some outages throughout the Capital Region, which was experiencing some heavy winds at the time. But what zapped about 150 homes in the village wasn’t any normal power outage.

Utility workers later told residents a major electrical surge blasted through the power lines — one mighty enough to burn out meters and fry appliances. And while the surge didn’t touch off any major fires, homeowners from about a six-block swath of the village claim they’ve sustained thousands of dollars worth of damage to appliances that were plugged in at the time.

Yagelski lost a refrigerator, one of four televisions and a number of surge protectors. She also had to replace six outlets that weren’t working properly after the surge.

“We were lucky,” she said.

Others lost far more. Melissa and Terry Peterson of Lark Street lost a dishwasher, microwave, television, Blu-ray player, DVD player and home stereo system.

The Petersons weren’t home at the time of the surge and didn’t even realize the extent of the damage until the power came back Sunday. Now they’re trying to tally what it’ll cost to replace their shorted-out appliances.

“It’s not going to be cheap, I can tell you that,” Terry Peterson said.

Residents of the neighborhood think the surge was caused by a downed tree or limb that fell on wires somewhere nearby, but National Grid couldn’t confirm a cause Monday. Spokesman Patrick Stella acknowledged there were high-wind conditions in the area Saturday and that the claims department has received numerous calls from the neighborhood, but couldn’t say exactly what caused Saturday’s power fluctuation.

“We’re doing an investigation on that,” he said. “We don’t have a determination right now.”

Lark Street resident Rhena MacDonald didn’t lose that many appliances — she tallied two coffee makers, her Verizon FiOS box and a dehumidifier among the casualties of the surge. She said a Verizon worker who stopped by her home estimated the surge caused about 32,000 volts to blast through her wiring.

“I think I’m one of the more fortunate ones,” she said.

Of greater concern was the fire that almost started as a result of the damage. MacDonald said a coffee maker in the upstairs apartment of her home started smoking when she changed a fuse to restore power Sunday and suspects it might have ignited had her son not noticed the smoke.

“We were very fortunate to not have any fires,” she said. “Had the fuse been OK and had the power come back on, we would have had a fire.”

Peterson was equally relieved the surge didn’t toast anything more than appliances and outlets. Given that damage, he could easily envision a far worse scenario stemming from Saturday’s episode.

“Things like this happen,” he said. “We still have our house. We still have all our possessions. Some of them aren’t in working order, but we still have them.”

 
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comments

September 24, 2013
8:19 p.m.
dan says...

I'm wondering how items plugged into surge protectors fared. The main reason we buy surge protectors is to protect our electronics from surges like these. This is a great real-world test to see how well things did that were plugged into the protectors vs those that weren't.

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