Outage shuts White Marsh Mall

Workers sever an unmarked water main in a parking lot, cutting power for 3 1/2 hours

August 23, 2008|By Kevin Rector | Kevin Rector,Sun reporter

Kim Carey was working behind a cash register at Macy's in White Marsh Mall just after 1 p.m. yesterday when "it just went pitch black," she said.

A water main break in the parking lot of the Sears store had knocked out power throughout the mall and in surrounding areas. Traffic signals went dark and roadways were jammed, but some shoppers were unfazed.

"Some of them continued to shop, wondering if the lights were going to come back on," Carey said.

The lights did not immediately go back on, though, and within 15 minutes, firefighters, police and mall officials were telling people that the mall was being evacuated, said Brian Kolarek, manager of the Ruby Tuesday,

"It happened pretty quickly," he said.

It was not until about 4:30 p.m. that power was restored and the mall - except for Sears - was reopened for business, said Charles Crerand, the mall's senior general manager.

In a separate incident, The Mall in Columbia lost power about 3 p.m. yesterday for about 90 minutes, said Rachael Lighty, a Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokeswoman. BGE was working yesterday evening to determine what caused that outage.

The water main break in White Marsh occurred after workers for a contractor hired by BGE hit an unmarked main as they were digging in a parking area to install new electrical service to the Sears store, said Gary Hale, a BGE inspector.

The rush of water caused several transformers to malfunction, creating power failures at the mall and surrounding areas, including White Marsh Plaza and parts of The Avenue at White Marsh, said Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County Fire and Rescue.

Power was restored to the mall and other areas after workers rerouted the electricity feeding the area to bypass the lines to the Sears store, said Kelly Shanefelter, a BGE spokeswoman. Sears remained closed and without power yesterday afternoon, she said.

Hale said the break "wouldn't have happened if [the mall] had had the water marked properly," but Shanefelter said it was too early to assess blame and that the cause of the break was still undetermined.

For about three hours, members of the Baltimore County police support operations division directed motorists at traffic signals that had lost power along Honeygo and Perry Hall boulevards, said Capt. Michael Balog.

The White Marsh police precinct station, across Perry Hall Boulevard from the mall, operated for a time on backup generators, a police spokesman said.

By 3:30 p.m., most shoppers had left the mall area, while employees milled outside and store managers crowded around police and fire officials near Sears to find out when they could reopen.

"It's an impact to business," said Shelley Steck, a Macy's manager. "Every Friday and Saturday are big, but it's a big weekend for back-to-school. ...We were very busy when the power went out."

Kelly Rudolph of Parkville and three of her friends, all 15, said they were enjoying shopping on their last free weekday before school starts when the outage occurred.

"It almost irritated us, because all [of] the sudden this firefighter guy came up to us and was like, 'You have to get out of the mall,'" Rudolph said.

kevin.rector@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Tyeesha Dixon contributed to this article.

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