WAPA outage blacks out Super Bowl


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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Water and Power Authority fared even worse than the Denver Broncos' defense and Peyton Manning on Sunday night during the nation's premier sporting event.

Just after 7 p.m., as Super Bowl fans across St. Thomas and St. John were tuning in to see if Manning and the Broncos could overcome the Seattle Seahawks' defense, televisions and lights across the district winked out.

At WAPA's Harley Power Plant on St. Thomas, a transformer flashover caused the entire plant to shut down, according to Executive Director Hugo Hodge Jr.

For football fan and St. Thomas resident Wilson Samuel, the flashover meant an early end to his Super Bowl party as his guests quickly left as his TV sat dark and silent.

"I've never seen a situation like this before, other than with weather," Samuel said.

After driving around to find a working television, Samuel and many other fans ended up at the Dog House Pub in Long Bay to watch the game.

According to electrical engineering magazine Electrotechnik, during a flashover, electricity flows uncontrolled between two conductors or a conductor and the ground, and temperatures can climb to three times hotter than the surface of the sun, hot enough to vaporise metal.

At the Harley Plant, the flashover was limited to the outside of a transformer and while extremely bright, it occured a safe distance from employees and no one was hurt, Hodge said.

Dan Salvin, a Broncos fan who might have been better off not finding a TV as his team wound lose 43-8, blasted WAPA.

"I'm used to back in the states where the power never goes out... Here the power goes out all the time, in the most inopportune times," he said.

About 20 minutes after the flashover, WAPA employees began to restore service, according to Hodge.

As generators were brought online one at a time, feeders were individually powered back up, Hodge said. The slow process is designed to keep the sytem balanced and prevents overloads, which would knock it offline again.

While their service was not needed, Hodge thanked members of the V.I. Fire Service who responded to the Harley Plant.

Getting the lights back on wasn't enough for Broncos fan Shawn Rodgers.

"To have this happen during the biggest game of the year? I'm going to explore alternative methods of energy," Rodgers said.

Hodge acknowledged that the timing of the outage was terrible, and very disruptive for many businesses and football fans.

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