Off-island car accident sparks Whidbey Island power outage

Restaurant staff, coffee shop baristas and mini-market cashiers stood outside their Pioneer Way shops Thursday evening after an hour-long power outage effectively shut down commerce in Island, Skagit and San Juan counties for an hour or more, depending on location.

Traffic came to a near standstill along Highway 20 near the major Oak Harbor intersections and business screeched to a halt when the outage began around 5:30 p.m. Safeway staff roped off its gas station with orange cones and yellow caution tape, while the supermarket alarm rang throughout the parking lot. According to a Safeway employee, the grocery store has a backup generator, but the machine did not kick in during the outage for an unknown reason.

Corey Johnson, an employee at Lava Nightclub, took advantage of the outage to visit the carnival on Bayshore Drive to purchase a plate of food. While the town was at a standstill, the carnival's generator allowed rides to continue operating.

"I heard the power was out all along Highway 20," Gail Hager said Thursday night. She had brought her two granddaughters, Catherine and Tammie, to the carnival. "It's a good time to be here."

The Thursday evening power outage was sparked by a car accident on Highway 20 near Sedro-Woolley, when a car collided with a transmission pole, said Dorothy Bracken spokesperson for Puget Sound Energy.

The State Patrol reported that 27-year-old Wendu Ayansa of Sea-Tac was driving a 2003 Kia Rio. The car drifted into the oncoming land, Ayansa overcorrected and the car left the roadway to the right, striking the power pole.

Ayansa and three passengers were injured and transported to hospitals. Ayansa and 24-year-old Sedro-Woolley resident had to be airlifted to St. Joseph in Bellingham.

The cause of the accident was inattention, the State Patrol reports, and possible charges are pending.

Bracken said there are normally mechanisms in place that would have prevented a widespread outage from happening in the event of such an accident. Unfortunately, a transmission line was out of service at the time undergoing routine maintenance. The outage even darkened the San Juan Islands for a time.

Workers started repairs and Whidbey Island's power started returning about an hour later and power to the island was fully restored by 7:30 p.m, Bracken said.

She added that crews worked through the night repairing the damage caused by the car accident. Many Mount Vernon and Burlington residents were without power for several hours.

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