WILLMAR -- Equipment failure early Tuesday evening at Willmar's primary electrical substation caused a widespread power outage that included the entire city and extended throughout north-west Kandiyohi County as far north as Sunburg.
The outage began around 5:45 p.m. and lasted about two hours.
Bruce Gomm, general manager of Willmar Municipal Utilities, said crews had been doing maintenance work at the substation, located on the south edge of Willmar, when a piece of equipment failed causing "a bunch of problems."
Electricity was out throughout Willmar. Because Kandiyohi Power Cooperative also receives electricity through the substation, customers in Pennock, rural New London, rural Spicer, Hawick and Sunburg were also affected. Most residents and businesses in the cities of New London and Spicer maintained power but many homes on the outskirts did not.
Gomm said MUC crews worked directly with Great River Energy to fix the problem and restore power.
"It was a big challenge for us," Gomm said, adding that crews worked as fast as they could to get the power on line again.
During the outage Willmar businesses either had to shut down or get creative.
At the Oaks, the kitchen crew was setting up the salad bar and making chicken salad sandwiches so their customers would have something to eat.
"We're doing the best we can," said manager Jenna Chapin. The outage didn't scare customers away and the restaurant was half full, she said. Sales were made without the electronic tills. "We're doing it old school," said Chapin.
At Cub Foods the fruits and vegetables were covered with heavy plastic and grocery carts blocked the aisles to the dairy and frozen food sections, but at least one checkout line was open.
At Target an employee stood at the open doorway telling tentative customers that the store was indeed open even though the lights were low and there was an odd hush throughout the store. Several tills were open thanks to a generator that kept low-level power to the store.
Institutions, like hospitals and jails, have backup generators that kick in when power outages occur.
Willmar police set up traffic cones and four-way stop signs at the major intersections on First Street. In most cases drivers stopped and politely waited their turn before proceeding.
At the intersection of Highway 12 and County Road 5, however, a driver who apparently didn't notice the traffic signals were out, was seen barreling through the intersection even as another vehicle was starting to cross in front of him.
According to the Kandiyohi County Sheriff's department, there were no reports of any accidents or other emergency incidents as a result of the power outage.
The only problem was that so many people were calling the police dispatch center to report that the electricity was out that dispatchers were concerned about having time to handle real emergency calls if they came in.