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Detroit Goes Dark: Massive Power Outage Affects Courthouse, Fire Stations, Public Schools, DIA And More

DETROIT (WWJ) - A major power outage affected multiple buildings in downtown Detroit Tuesday — including the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, public schools, the Wayne County Jail and Joe Louis Arena.

The downtown electrical grid failed at around 10:30 a.m., impacting 100 Detroit Public Lighting Department customers.

"The city's public lighting grid suffered a major cable failure that has caused the entire grid to lose power," the city said in a statement. "The outage is affecting all customers on the PLD grid. We have isolated the issue and are working to restore power as soon as possible."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said one-third of affected customers were back online by 2 p.m., and he expected power to be completely restored by Tuesday evening.

Shortly before 3 p.m., power was restored to The Joe, in plenty of time for the Red Wings v. Panthers game which will go on as planned. A morning skate was canceled due to the outage.

WWJ's Charlie Langton reported all of the traffic lights were out in Greektown, although all businesses had power and remained open.  Lights were blinking red causing backups along several main drags including Jefferson Ave., from Woodward Ave. east until near Belle Isle, and along Woodward, north from Comerica Park.

With several schools without power, officials with the Detroit Public Schools said students would be released at their half-day dismissal time throughout the entire district. Parents of kids who don't take the bus were asked to pick up their children.

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Power was out to some buildings on the campus Wayne State University. WSU canceled classes and evening activities on the Main Campus for the remainder of the day.

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A firefighter exits the City-County building after assisting in the evacuation. (credit: Vickie Thomas/WWJ)

The Detroit Free Press reported that Detroit firehouses were also without power.

"It's a pretty wild scene," reported WWJ's Vickie Thomas, outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center. "We heard sirens and two fire rigs pulled up here to the City-County building, and I asked the firefighters — they jumped out with all sorts of tools and whatnot  — if they were trying to rescue people from the elevators; and that's exactly what they are doing."

Clara Jackson said she was "out of breath and everything" after making it safely down multiple stories.

"I was on the thirteenth floor! I had two police officers walk me down — they were real nice and gentle," she said. "Yeah! I had some nice ones."

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An officer assists a women who was evacuated from the City-County building. (credit: Vickie Thomas/WWJ)
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On oxygen, Richard Swartz needed help getting out of City Hall from the 12th floor. (credit: Vickie Thomas/WWJ)

WWJ's Marie Osborne, who had been covering a case in Detroit's Third Circuit Court, evacuated the building along with hundreds of others.

"This is an 11-story building, so there were people up on the upper floors. I also heard through one of the deputy's intercom systems that there were people on the upper floors that were in wheelchairs and had canes and walkers — so you can imagine this evacuation took quite awhile."

Power was restored at the courthouse shortly before 1 p.m., but the building will remain closed until 9 a.m. Wednesday. Power was partially restored to the jail at around the same time.

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People wait outside after the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice is evacuated due to a power outage. (credit: Marie Osborne/WWJ)

The Detroit People Mover temporarily suspended service due to the outage, and the Detroit Historical Museum and Detroit Institute of Arts announced they would be closed for the rest of the day.

Officials at the Detroit Receiving Hospital, which was operating on a backup system due to the outage, attributed the problem to "outdated public lighting department equipment."

"DRH leadership emphasized the fact that all patients are safe and being well cared for," reads a statement from the hospital. "All emergency power systems are working effectively. Detroit Medical Center (DMC) facility leadership and DTE, from whom the DMC buys all of it's power, is working together with PLD to resolve the problem."

All emergency trauma patients were diverted to other trauma level 1 institutions until power was restored.

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Traffic was jammed downtown with traffic lights out across the city. (credit: Vickie Thomas/WWJ)

At Wayne State University, Police Chief Tony Holt said his officers were out in force to keep an eye on things.

"It's not so much in terms of safety...In terms of the lighting, the heating and so forth — we have made sure that no one's stuck in elevators," Holt said. "We have officers really visible on campus."

Ongoing issues with Detroit's decrepit electrical grid have been a continuing concern in the bankrupt city; and outages such as like this are not uncommon.

"Today is another reminder of how much work we still have to do to rebuild this city," Mayor Duggan said at an afternoon news conference. "And a bankruptcy order doesn't solve the decades of neglect in our infrastructure and that's what we saw today in the PLD system."

Attributed to "system overload," a widespread Detroit Public Lighting outage in the summer of 2013 shut down power to WSU, the courthouse, the City-County building, and midtown museums for two days.

DTE Energy is in the process of taking control of the city's power grid and Public Lighting Department and will be in charge of the work to fix this latest problem.

Stay with WWJ and for the latest.

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