Cambridge Plunged Into Darkness As Power Fails

Tarik Adnan Moon

An Eliot House resident tries to connect to Facebook on his phone on Thursday. The afternoon blackout caused many to turn to their smartphones for Internet.

Much of Harvard slipped into darkness for nearly two hours Thursday afternoon, resulting in the cancellation of classes and events, disruption of internet access, and the relocation of hundreds of students to the Science Center and the Quad, where power remained on.

The outage impacted a large swath of Cambridge, including most of Harvard Yard, the River Houses, and graduate student housing, according to Harvard Vice President for Campus Services Lisa Hogarty. The Kennedy School of Government, the Business School, and MIT were also affected.

The failure of a transmission line near Kendall Square knocked out power for nearly 17,000 customers, said Michael Durand, spokesperson for NSTAR, the electricity provider for Cambridge. Power was restored on campus by 6:14 p.m., Hogarty said, and service to all of Cambridge was restored by 7 p.m.

Though no one was injured during the outage, some students found themselves in tricky situations.

Michael Ardeljan ’13 had just stepped into an elevator on the sixth floor of New Quincy when the outage began.

“It was the worst timing,” said Ardeljan, who was on his way to a wind ensemble rehearsal. “At the moment I freaked out for a second, and then I pressed the call button and the emergency lights came on.

As Aldeljan waited for the fire department to arrive, friends and other Quincy residents gathered outside the elevator. After one of the students used a Kendo sword to partially pry the doors apart, Ardeljan took out his saxophone and joined in an impromptu jam session that had begun on the other side of the doors.

“It’s in the middle of thesis writing, so it was actually in a weird way a break from all the hectic-ness of the work,” Aldeljan said.

The fire department arrived shortly before 5:30 p.m. and pried the elevator doors open, Aldeljan said.

Hogarty explained that some parts of campus did not lose power because the University uses five distinct NSTAR electricity feeds, some of which were unaffected.

Around 6 p.m., back-up generators powering emergency lights and security systems began to fail, which would have disabled swipe access and locked students out of buildings. In anticipation, administrators dispatched dorm crew members to hold open doors, according to an email sent to dorm crew and obtained by the Crimson.

Harvard University Dining Services suspended dinner service at the Harvard Hillel, but most of the River Houses and Annenberg Hall remained open to serve what food they had already prepared before the outage.

Still, shuttles were crowded as hundreds of students made their war to the Quad for a hot dinner. The Harvard Alert System sent out emails and text messages throughout the evening informing students where food would be served.

“Usually, people trickle in, and there’s people sitting at every other table,” Pforzheimer resident Rebecca S. Goldstein ’13 said. “Now it’s relatively crowded, which it would never be on a weekday night."

Without internet, students across campus reveled in the darkness, playing loud music from a Grays Hall dorm window or throwing an “Apocalypse” party in the Quad.