Wed, Jul 07, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Transformer station blaze shrouds Toronto in darkness


An explosion at a Toronto power facility on Monday knocked out power in Canada’s largest metropolis and briefly disrupted a state dinner for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Hydro One, the power company for Canada’s most populous province of Ontario, said the blackout hit at 4:42pm local time, affecting the city’s subway, several commuter trains and traffic lights at the height of the evening rush hour.

Up to 250,000 people in the city center were also without electricity — an estimated 900 megawatts in total lost from the grid — amid an extreme heat alert, said Daniele Gauvin, spokeswoman for provincial utility. Temperatures in the city reached 34°C.

Public broadcaster CBC said firefighters were kept busy rescuing people trapped in elevators while policemen directed traffic.

The queen, at the end of a nine-day trip to Canada with her husband, Prince Philip, was to attend a state dinner hosted by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto, but the hotel was without power leading up to the event.

The dinner was delayed by one hour, but went on.

“People were getting ready to go home when the power went out,” said businessman Falik Raja, 40. “There was some panic because many people were working in high-rise buildings ... and the lifts stopped working.”

“People were hurrying down staircases to the ground floor and then headed out to their cars” or to the train station, he said, but there were no traffic lights and so tens of thousands of motorists got stuck in traffic jams.

Gauvin said the outage was caused by a fire at a transformer station in the heart of Toronto, but that the blaze was extinguished shortly afterwards. An inquiry is to be conducted into the cause of the fire, she said

By 8:30pm it was restored to the entire city. No injuries were reported.

Torontonians last experienced a major blackout in 2003, on a similarly seasonally hot day in mid-August. That outage affected 55 million people in Ontario plus much of the northeastern and mid-western US, in the worst widespread power failure in North America.

Earlier on Monday, Queen Elizabeth received a BlackBerry handset while touring the headquarters of its maker, Research in Motion.

The queen is said to be a fan of the smartphones ever since her son, Prince Andrew, introduced her to them a few years ago.

Company cofounder Mike Lazaridis presented her with the lastest model, the BlackBerry Bold 9700, personalized with an image of area schoolchildren offering her flowers.

Later the queen donned 3D eyewear to watch a few minutes of a new 3D film by Deepa Mehta being shot at the Pinewood movie studio in Toronto.

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