Power Failure Hits Washington and Maryland After Substation Fire


WASHINGTON — An equipment failure at a Maryland electric plant on Tuesday caused a widespread shutdown across the city and parts of suburban Maryland, leaving the White House and other government buildings temporarily without power.

Tom Dennison, a spokesman with the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, said a conductor on a line operated by Pepco, the main utility serving the city, fell to the ground outside one of its substations in Charles County, Md., south of Washington. The malfunction caused a loss of power as well as a minor brush fire, both of which were resolved quickly, he said. None of the utility’s equipment was damaged.

Courtney A. Nogas, a Pepco spokeswoman, said in a statement Tuesday that the utility was investigating the cause of the power failure.

Reports of power shutdowns across the city began around midday on Tuesday. The White House and Capitol briefly lost electricity, with workers milling about outside darkened government agencies and other office buildings. The Metro subway system was forced to run several stations on backup power for a couple of hours, continuing train service but losing the use of its escalators and elevators.

On the National Mall, where there were many tourists to see the blossoming cherry trees, the Smithsonian Institution temporarily closed some of its museums, including the Air and Space Museum and the American Art Museum.

George Washington University in downtown Washington temporarily lost power, while the University of Maryland closed for the day because the outage was more protracted there.

About 1,500 Pepco and fewer than 100 Smeco customers were still without power by late afternoon, according to the utilities.

Looking into a power failure notable for its effect on the federal government, the Department of Homeland Security said it was unlikely that loss of power was the result of an attack, posting on Twitter that there was “no indication of malicious activity.”

Bill Smith, a spokesman at the Charles County Fire Department, confirmed the department had responded to reports of a fire and a possible explosion at the Smeco plant.

He said firefighters had extinguished the fire and left the scene. There were no injuries.