Saturday, April 17, 2010

....Thunderstorms cut power....

The show must go on ... except when the power goes out.

Fortunately, moments before the Jaffa Shrine Circus was to begin its 7 p.m. performance Friday, the power came back on - relieving Jaffa officials and a full house of about 3,400 spectators.

The power outage occurred as a line of severe thunderstorms blasted through the area late Friday afternoon.

The storms hit about 4:45 p.m., with winds gusting to 62 mph, the National Weather Service in State College said. The storms knocked down numerous trees and brought heavy rain and pea-sized hail.

About 5 p.m., lightning struck a utility pole on 19th Street near Nardo's Cafe, cutting power to the neighborhood, including the Jaffa, where people were just beginning to arrive, Altoona Fire Chief Reynold D. Santone Jr. said.

Emergency lights went on in the hallways and at the exits, but there was no emergency generator, and no way the show could go on, according to Santone and Jaffa Potentate and Circus Administrator William G. Troxell.

A crowd began to accumulate outside as Jaffa officials called for help, summoning Santone.

The lightning strike tripped a substation breaker. At that point, fire officials conferred with Penelec, which normally takes two hours to correct such an outage, especially when it's in "storm mode," like Friday, Santone said.

It began to rain, so the Jaffa opened its lower level, to keep the crowd dry.

Given the magnitude of the predicament, Penelec reset the breaker remotely at 7 p.m., hoping it would hold. It did, which indicated that the short had cleared on its own.

"When the lights finally came on, there was a huge cheer and applause," said John P. Elder of Duncansville, who was there with eight other members of his family. "The incident really made things interesting - a circus to remember."

The performance finally began about 7:50 p.m.

It was fortunate for Betty Lloyd of Williamsburg that the show went on, because her 7-year-old grandson Jonah Nichols was getting antsy.

"It would have been very tough dealing with him," she said.

As many as 30,000 Penelec customers were without power Friday night, company spokeswoman Beverly Green said. It could be later today before all customers have their service restored.

One of those without power in the area of the Jaffa was Ambrose Jones, owner of Dejavu Cycles.

Jones stood in the doorway of his darkened business at 1814 Union Ave.

"We heard this big, loud boom and we could see the flash. And there went the electricity," he said.

Altoona experienced widespread tree damage, but no injuries were reported, Assistant Fire Chief Ed Barstow said.

The 62 mph gust was reported just before 5 p.m. by the automated weather station at the John P. Murtha Johnstown Cambria County Airport, the weather service said. A 50 mph gust occurred in Altoona about 5:10 p.m.

Bedford County was hard hit with damage reported in Imler where a former schoolhouse collapsed, a barn collapsed with cows inside near New Enterprise and a mobile home partially collapsed in Saxton, the weather service said.