The Athens area experienced a widespread power outage Friday, leaving more than 18,000 customers of American Electric Power (AEP) without electricity.
The cause of the outage was unclear for hours as AEP Ohio, the region’s primary electric provider, worked to determine what went wrong after several power stations in the Athens and Albany areas went out at 2 p.m.
It was later discovered that a high-voltage wooden power pole that feeds nearby stations was damaged after a tree fell on it, said Deanna Gilliland, communications consultant for AEP Ohio.
She said the damaged pole was in a “remote” location off State Route 13 near Chauncey where crews determined that it would have to be replaced.
AEP diverted power from other stations to Athens in the early evening, partially alleviating the outages for some users. Because of difficulties reaching the pole, the company estimated that full service wouldn’t be restored until sometime before 9 a.m. Saturday. But crews were able bring the lights back on around 1 a.m.
Amid the outage, traffic signals across town were not functioning, creating a very unsafe situation for drivers during rush hour. Athens closed the county government annex and the court house.
Much of Ohio University, which canceled classes for the rest of the day, was also affected by the outage.
Generators kept only emergency lighting on in university facilities, but there wasn’t enough power to support heating in residence halls. Students were offered blankets to help keep warm. Dining facilities operated as usual, but with limited menus, university spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said.
Several Uptown businesses temporarily shuttered, while others remained open accepting cash only. Bars served drinks in the dark to scores of students in the late afternoon.
When night fell, Uptown grew desolate as it was illuminated only by cars’ headlights while drivers apprehensively made their way down Court Street with no stoplights. Students continued packing into bars, whose drinking areas were dimly lit only by an emergency lightbulb or two.
Some Uptown restaurants, like Ginger Asian Kitchen, served take-out food to customers in a near total darkness.
The Athens Community Center opened its doors as a warming shelter for residents who might have lost their heating.