Most power restored to Pitt's electrical system

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Most electrical power was restored by 8 p.m. today after disruption at the University of Pittsburgh and at a number of UPMC facilities, forced the medical center to transfer its surgical patients to other hospitals in the system.

Many of the buildings at UPMC and on the Pitt campus in Oakland were without electrical service from around 3 a.m., a spokesman for Duquesne Light Co. said.

Joseph Vallarian, spokesman for the power company, said underground cables failed on McKee Place and on Bates Street, disconnecting service to the university and the hospitals.

The two failed lines are among three that lead into an electric service substation that is owned by the university to supply power to most of its buildings and facilities, Mr. Vallarian said.

UPMC Presbyterian and other facilities operated today on emergency backup power, part of the redundant system that seeks to maintain constant service in that area.

Earlier the power company had said it expected to restore power to the university by 8 p.m. after the damaged cable on McKee Place was replaced. Repairs to the cable on Bates may be done by early tomorrow, he said.

It is the second time in two months that electric service has been disrupted to one of the nation's larger medical megaplexes.

Last May 5, about 3,000 electric customers in Oakland and Shadyside lost power for about an hour after the cable under McKee Place failed.

At the time, Duquesne Light officials theorized that wear and tear on the cables, and/or rodents may have been to blame.

This time, the company said it believes water got into the conduits carrying the fire hose-size cables, causing them to fail.

"Reliability in Oakland is good because of the redundant systems," Mr. Vallarian said. "But," he added, "this is obviously weather related. If that's the case, you can't really stop mother nature."

The company recently committed $500 million to make upgrades in its infrastructure. The Oakland area already has been the site of major additions of power transformers along Fifth Avenue.

"The hope is there will be fewer such power outages," once the changes are completed, Mr. Vallarian said.

The university sent telephone voice messages to all employees this morning to apprise them of the problem. A message also was on its Internet Web site. The messages advise that non-essential personnel in 16 buildings should leave work.

The facilities that were effectively shut down were Trees Hall, Fitzgerald Field House, Cost Sports Center, Posvar Hall, Heinz Chapel, William Pitt Union, Bellefield Hall, Stephen Foster, Mervis Hall, David Lawrence Hall, Hillman Library, School of Law, Frick Fine Arts, Scaife Hall, and the 4th, 5th and 6th floors of Forbes Tower.

Unionized workers in these buildings, and workers in facilities not affected should remain on the job, the message said.

The message was posted on the Internet around 10 a.m. However, there is limited access to the Web site from the campus because of the power outage.


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