A third of Red Deer was hit by a massive power outage on Saturday afternoon that disabled traffic lights and closed retail stores and restaurants.
“It’s like The Day the Earth Stood Still,” said city resident Emily Cupples, who was walking by City Hall Park.
She likened the eeriness of the darkened traffic lights along much of Ross Street, Gaetz Avenue and 32nd Street to the science fiction movie about an alien invasion.
Electric power went out at 4:41 p.m. and was not restored until 5:35 p.m. City motorists had to fend for themselves in the interim, with no one directing traffic at most major and minor intersections spanning from Riverside Meadows to the north to just south of the Bower Place Shopping Centre.
The power failure affected the entire downtown area, including Parkvale, as well as the West Park and Mountview neighbourhoods and some of Oriole Park.
Yet no major accidents were reported, as most drivers caught on to using the intersections as four-way stops.
The cause of the outage is a yet-undiscovered glitch at one of Red Deer’s three major sub-stations that feed electricity from the provincial grid, said Jim Jorgensen, manager of the city’s electric light and power department.
“This kind of thing is not very common at all. It was very unique and very big,” added Jorgensen.
He credits city crews for managing to restore power within 45 minutes to a third of Red Deer by “transferring the load to other resources in the city.”
City workers are still investigating to find the problem that caused the substation’s safety system to shut down power.
It was not caused by an overuse of air conditioners or old equipment, since funds were recently spent on upgrades to that station, said Jorgensen. “We received an alarm about emergency conditions . . . we have to figure out what it is.”
Many retail stores were forced to close, including Target, The Bay and Sears at the Bower Place Shopping Centre — although the rest of the mall maintained electricity.
Restaurants such as The Noodle House and Phil’s in downtown Red Deer also had to shut temporarily. Gloria and Lawrence Murphy, who were dining at Phil’s, were glad to have cash to pay for their meals, since the cash registers weren’t working. “We just came in from Eckville for dinner,” said Gloria, who also got some unexpected excitement.
Jorgensen said he’s glad local motorists largely managed to cope with the lack of traffic lights. “For the most part, drivers have a good understanding of the rules of the road.”