Restaurant parking lots were empty; fuel pumps stopped and businesses lost lights during a mid-morning power outage. The tiny forest rodent strayed into an electrical substation just north of downtown shortly before 11 a.m., causing 1,841 Alabama Power customers to lose power.
Within an hour worry settled over area business owners and managers. Some lost money due to the outage.
“So many customers had stopped by here already,” said May Moore just before noon. Moore manages the House of Chen on U.S. 431. “It’s sort of like disappointing,” she said.
House of Chen and other restaurants had to turn costumers away. Some also took precautions to ensure they didn’t lose costly stockpiles of food due to the outage.
Anniston firefighters said they discovered the body of the squirrel at the substation at 501 E. 30th St. The accident led to a fire in the woods near the substation, said Rick Sensenbach, an Anniston firefighter.
The blaze burned about an acre and crews were able to extinguish it in about 10 minutes, Sensenbach said.
The outage also affected the heart of Anniston. It shut down traffic lights, seemingly at random. It also caused the halls at the Ken Joiner Calhoun County Administration building to go dark.
Alabama Power Spokeswoman Alyson Fuqua said the outage began at 10:55 and power was restored to most customers by 12:45 Monday afternoon.
“We have had problems with squirrel getting into our substations occasionally,” Fuqua said. “It’s relatively common.”
Dad’s Bar-B-Que, a Quick Mart gas station, Christian Corner Meats and the Midnight Sun tanning salon were among the businesses that lost power on U.S. 431. Within 30 minutes the thermometers inside the freezers at Christian Corner Meats increased from 0 to 20 degrees. Employees there said they rushed to cover the inventory with plastic wrap to ensure it stayed cool.
Customers at the tanning salon were told to return later and customers who stopped at the Quick Mart gas station had to find another service station to fuel their vehicles.
Motorists in the parking lot of the county building on Noble Street were met by employees who warned there would be a wait to renew drivers’ licenses and automobile tags and apply for marriage licenses because of the outage.
“It was dark in here but we hung on,” said Calhoun County Administrator Ken Joiner. “We didn’t want them to stop and have to come in.”
The outage caused traffic lights on Quintard Avenue to stop working. A police dispatcher said signals were reported out all along Quintard and as far north as Lenlock Lane at U.S. 431.
At noon, eateries in downtown Anniston were full of customers, and employees in at least one restaurant on Noble Street said their business never lost electricity.
The same could not be said for the Calhoun County Schools. The system’s central office and technology buildings lost power. So did Saks schools.
The outage caused a pause in Internet services at the schools, and lunchroom workers served lunch without lights.
“The schools adapted and made it through,” said Mike Fincher, the school system’s safety and security director. “We had communication with the power company and they were keeping us informed.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson 256-235-3544.