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A power failure -- the second in 12 hours...

By
WARREN PERLEY

MONTREAL -- A power failure -- the second in 12 hours -- blacked out parts of Quebec today just minutes after crews restored electricity to homes caught in a massive province-wide outage caused by a snowstorm.

The first blackout occurred at 8:08 EDT Monday when a transmission line failed at a northern Quebec hydroelectric substation. It left 6 million Quebec residents in 2.8 million households without electricity for up to 12 hours in near-freezing weather.

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All power was restored by 8:30 a.m. Tuesday when a second failure at the same Arnaud substation in Sept-Iles, 500 miles northeast of Montreal, blacked out about 20 percent of Quebec, including parts of Montreal.

'We lost the same substation a second time,' Hydro-Quebec official Jean-Guy Ouimet said. 'Both blackouts were caused by a snow storm which covered equipment at the substation -- transformers, condensers and switches -- in ice.'

The ice caused one of the three transmission lines at the substation to fail, precipitating both blackouts, Ouimet said.

Normally three lines run into the substation, carrying 3,200 megawatts of electricity from Hydro-Quebec's generators at Churchill Falls, Labrador. That represents 20 percent of the total power supplied to the province by Hydro-Quebec.

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One of the lines was down for routine maintenance work Monday. The problem started when one of the two remaining lines failed because of the ice, overloading the last line and throwing the entire Hydro-Quebec power grid into chaos, Hydro-Quebec spokesman Jacques Couture said.

The territory of Labrador adjoins northern Quebec, but belongs to the province of Newfoundland. Its hydroelectric resources have been leased to Hydro-Quebec on a long-term basis by the Newfoundland government.

About 60 percent of Quebec households had their power restored from the initial blackout by 1 a.m. EDT Tuesday. The rest had their power restored by 8:30 a.m. Tuesday when the second and smaller blackout hit.

About 85 percent of households affected by the second blackout had their power restored by 11 a.m. with the rest expected back within 'hours,' Ouimet said.

Provincially-owned Hydro-Quebec also supplies many eastern Canadian and New England utilities with power. A few areas outside Quebec were affected by the outage.

A spokesman for the Central Maine Power Co. said the tiny hamlet of Coburn Gore near the Canadian border in northwest Maine was apparently the only community in the state hit by the blackout.

About 700 Citizens Utilities customers in the Vermont communities of Canaan and Norton were without power for 47 minutes Monday night.

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Police in Montreal reported no serious problems during the first blackout.

About 300 passengers on two subway trains were evacuated from the underground system without incident, Constable Pierre Vezina said. A 'couple' of downtown stores had their front windows smashed and police arrested two looters, he said.

Major hospitals used emergency generators to maintain services. Air service out of Dorval Airport continued using emergency generators, although flights were delayed because baggage conveyor belts weren't working, forcing suitcases to be carried by hand.

Fifteen Montreal hotels set aside 200 rooms for people whose homes were too chilly to sleep in because of a cold spell which sent temperatures plummeting to the mid-20s overnight.

The blackout left a lot of irate Canadian and American hockey fans who had been watching a telecast of the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens in a playoff game at the Forum. The Canadian coast-to-coast telecast was blacked out with 6:27 left to play in the first period, but the hockey game continued with the Forum's own generators supplying power.

A similar province-wide power failure occurred on Dec. 14, 1982, when a transformer blew up at the Levy substation across from Quebec City. It took up to five hours to retore power across the province that time. Hydro-Quebec officials initially said that blackout occurred on Jan. 14, 1982, but later corrected the date.

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