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Sparks Fly In Chicago Outage

The power is back on Friday morning in Chicago after thousands of workers in the downtown area went home early when a blackout shut down part of the city, reports CBS Station WBBM-TV.

Jim Kallas could probably smell the cost of the power outage: freezers at the Roditys restaurant he manages were full of worthless lamb, cheese and other food.

Kallas figures he lost $10,000 during Wednesday's outage that cut short trading at the Chicago Board of Trade and sent thousands of office workers home early.

"We had to send all our employees home without a day's work," said Kallas, whose electricity was out for about 10 hours. "What are you going to do?"

The Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago said the outage resulted in an estimated $100 million in lost business.

Kallas said he hoped Commonwealth Edison would reimburse customers, as it did for residents affected by blackouts during the grueling heat wave in July.

But Heather Fabain, a utility spokeswoman, said reimbursements were unlikely. "We don't feel that this is a comparable situation," she said.

ComEd officials blamed the problems on equipment failures Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Vice President Paul McCoy said underground transmission cables leading from two big transformers failed at a substation, leaving 2,300 customers without electricity.

The utility was later forced to shut down power for about 90 minutes to another 670 business customers in a 30-block business district, which includes the Board of Trade, the federal courthouse and many law firms, after a transformer at another substation overheated. That transformer had been helping to keep up with demand at the defective station.

Power to all customers was restored by late Thursday.

Brian Kelly, a worker in a temp agency, was in his 13th-floor office across from the courthouse when the building went dark, forcing workers to feel their way down a stairwell.

"It was kind of scary," Kelly said. "It was so dark and it was chaotic trying to get our stuff before we had to get out."

The Board of Trade suffered a "tremendous disruption of trading." Officials closed the markets at 1 p.m. CT, said board spokesman Bret Gallaway.

"The last minutes of trading are often some of the busiest trading of the day," he said.

ComEd provides power to more than 3.4 million customers across northern Illinois. The utility already is under fire for the July outage that affected about 100,000 customers. In 1995, outages contributed to the deaths of hundreds of people.

Mayor Richard M. Daley threatened a lawsuit against the utility, saying it has problems in its infrastructure and needs to start at "ground zero" to fix itself.

"Like everybody, I'm upset and we expect the answers directly from ComEd," he said. "We deserve answers."

John Rowe, chief executiv of ComEd's parent company, Unicom, called the utility's performance "absolutely, totally unacceptable." He said a committee has been appointed to study the problems and recommend how to restructure the company.

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