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Durham mayor wants closer look at affected neighborhoods after 35-hour power outage

Durham Mayor Leo Williams says he is losing patience after repeated power outages in some of the city’s poorest neighborhods.

Power was restored to Duke Energy customers in Durham by Friday morning after a 35-hour outage during one of the season’s coldest stretches.

Workers doing maintenance work on a substation damaged equipment, knocking out power to more than 11,000 customers at the outage’s peak, according to a Duke Energy spokesman.

Williams got a tour of the damage and the efforts Duke Energy was making to restore power, he told ABC11, The News & Observer’s media partner.

“I understand that things happen,” he said. “But my tolerance for self-imposed, situations like this is very low, very little, and that is it’s quite frustrating to me.”

Duke Energy first told customers that the power would come back on at 4 p.m. Thursday, then pushed the time back throughout the night.

The outage affected a large swath of the city, including East Durham, parts of U.S. 70 Business and Interstate 885, north of the Bethesda area.

“I don’t trust anything that Duke Energy is saying at this point,” Mike De Los Santos, owner of Mike D’s BBQ, said Thursday afternoon. “I don’t believe anything they say until the power’s actually on.”

The power went out at the restaurant on South Driver Street in Old East Durham during lunchtime Wednesday.

Mike De Los Santos, owner of Mike D’s BBQ, puts fruit sodas into coolers of ice as the business copes with a power outage on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, in Durham, N.C. The restaurant lost power on Wednesday afternoon due to an equipment failure during maintenance work at a substation. De Los Santos said he began work early Thursday morning to save the meat in his freezer. After making a post on social media, he says he received offers of help from restaurant and retail owners across the Triangle.

What caused the power outage in Durham?

The initial outage occurred after equipment failure during work in the substation to improve the electric grid, said Duke Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks. Crews “discovered additional damage during our repairs” that extended the estimated restoration time.

De Los Santos had to discard about 30 pounds of food but said other restaurants reached out to help, storing the rest of his meats in their freezers and refrigerators.

One of the things I love about East Durham, and Old East Durham specifically, is that this community is really connected and we always support and help each other,” he said. “It was nice to see the larger business community in Durham and even Chapel Hill and Cary offering their support during this rough stretch.”

The eastern part of Durham has many of the city’s Black and Latino-owned businesses, and the outage highlights the vulnerable infrastructure in these neighborhoods, De Los Santos said.

The mayor shared De Los Santos’ concern about the neighborhoods most affected by this and previous outages.

“When you look at our maps and look at the economic status of those areas you realize that Northeast Central Durham is where some of our most impoverished black and brown communities are,” Williams told ABC11. “So this is something that requires us to now go back and look and do a comparison study.”

Duke Energy customers can file a claim at www.duke-energy.com/customer-service/report-claim to be compensated for loss of food, property damage or other issues caused by a power outage unrelated to weather.

Duke Energy trucks sit lined up outside of a substation on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, in Durham, N.C. where an equipment failure during maintenance work on Wednesday caused a power outage to about 11,500 customers.
Duke Energy trucks sit lined up outside of a substation on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, in Durham, N.C. where an equipment failure during maintenance work on Wednesday caused a power outage to about 11,500 customers.
Crews work at an energy substation on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, in Durham, N.C. where an equipment failure during maintenance work on Wednesday caused a power outage to about 11,500 Duke Energy customers.
Crews work at an energy substation on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, in Durham, N.C. where an equipment failure during maintenance work on Wednesday caused a power outage to about 11,500 Duke Energy customers.

Durham Tech, 7 DPS schools closed Thursday

The power outage, which began shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday, forced Durham Public Schools to close seven schools Thursday.

Middle College at Durham Technical Community College and six elementary schools — Y. E. Smith, Merrick Moore, RN Harris, Burton, C. C. Spaulding and Oak Grove elementary schools — were closed Thursday.

Durham opened an emergency shelter Thursday night at the old Northern High School on Tom Wilkinson Road. The Durham Main Library and regional libraries remain open as warming centers through Saturday and then Jan. 22-23 during operating hours.

Crews work at an energy substation on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, in Durham, N.C. where an equipment failure during maintenance work on Wednesday caused a power outage to about 11,500 Duke Energy customers.
Crews work at an energy substation on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, in Durham, N.C. where an equipment failure during maintenance work on Wednesday caused a power outage to about 11,500 Duke Energy customers.

DPS bus driver shortage

Due to a bus driver shortage, DPS also told parents they needed to provide transportation for children at schools that are open Thursday.

“We understand the inconvenience this may cause and sincerely apologize for any disruption to your routine,” the district told parents Wednesday night. “Your continued understanding and support are crucial during this challenging time. We are actively working to address this situation and appreciate your patience. Please be assured that we remain committed to your child’s education. Thank you again for your cooperation in this matter. Enjoy your evening.”

To report a power outage or check the status of an outage, visit Duke Energy’s website or call 1-800-419-6356.