Squirrel cuts off power to university campus

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

A squirrel that crept into a transformer is responsible for a power outage at Southeast Missouri State University's campus Tuesday evening, leaving thousands of students and hundreds of concert-goers in the dark for hours.

A spokesman for the university's public safety department said just before 10 p.m. that university and AmerenUE personnel were "working feverishly" to get power restored after it was cut off around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. Some lights came back on briefly, he said, but flickered out again, leaving the campus dark.

University information officer Ann Hayes said that the squirrel took out three main fuses of the high-voltage feeder line that supplies power from AmerenUE to the university.

"We do have replacement fuses in stock," Hayes said. "Our facilities management staff and power plant are going through a checklist to see if there is any reason not to use the new fuses and re-energize the system."

The checklist procedure is to ensure safety in the large system, Hayes said. She said she expected power to be back on before midnight.

The university has emergency lighting in the stairwells at the residence halls, and staffed the halls with personnel to help students get to their rooms. Extra public safety personnel were added to patrol the areas around the residence halls and parking lots to ensure student safety. No one was stuck in any elevators on campus.

Hayes said that when the power first went off, the classroom buildings were evacuated and all classes were canceled.

No class cancellations for today are anticipated, she said.

A sold-out concert for opera singer Judith Farris at Academic Auditorium was canceled. Farris, who graduated from the university but now lives and performs in New York City, will perform in a rescheduled concert today.

Outside a darkened Academic Auditorium, a small crowd of people congregated -- everyone from students in jeans to couples in formal attire -- as they waited for the power to return.

But when no lights had come on by 8 p.m., the concert was canceled.

People like Louis Virgien and Marcia Grannemann came to hear not only Judith Farris, but to hear a family member perform in the university orchestra.

Both women traveled from Ste. Genevieve, Mo., and were not sure if they would be able to make a return trip today.

"I'm very disappointed. I've never heard my granddaughter play in the orchestra before," said Virgien, whose granddaughter, Emily Grannemann, plays bassoon.

University music department chairman Dr. Gary Miller, however, was able to find a bright side to the situation.

"It's a blessing we weren't halfway through the performance when this happened," he said. "It would have been much more serious getting a crowd of 1,000 people out of the theater."

Almost a half-hour after her performance was canceled, Farris met with her cousin Rhonda Young's sixth-grade class from Cape Christian School. The students were asking Farris to make sure they would be able to come back to see the performance today.

They also presented Farris with roses that were meant for the end of the concert performance.

Farris said she found out about the situation at about 7 p.m. when she went to Academic Auditorium to apply her makeup and get dressed. She said the campus police told her the power could be off for an hour or a day.

"It's unbelievable," she said of the cancellation. "There were 1,500 tickets sold, a sold-out performance, people were coming from St. Louis, Sikeston and from God knows where.

"I was so wanting to perform for the community, and now many of them will miss out on that and I feel badly," she said.

No matter how many people show up for today's concert, however, Farris said she will give it her all.

"I sing the same for one person as 1,500," she said. "One's enough for me."

Southeast Missourian staff writers Kathryn Alfisi and Linda Redeffer contributed to this story.

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