Amid freezing temperatures and harsh winds on Jan. 11, 2024, a power line exploded, sparks flying everywhere. The situation worsened when a pipe burst, leaving Elevate Bellingham without water for more than 19 hours and without heat and electricity for 40 hours, according to the emails sent to residents.
Due to the severity of the issue, residents faced several issues from the power outage and lack of water.
Residents were forced to look for accommodations elsewhere, with many going out to buy meals and washing up in different places with running water. For residents who were in school and had classes the next day, charging their phones and computers was a challenge, as students had to go to school earlier to charge their devices before class.
Elevate sent out an email offering reimbursements for hotel accommodations of $180 per night and compensation of up to $200 for spoiled food and meals. Residents submitted grocery lists and receipts to the complex, and the credits and compensation will be applied to next month’s rent.
According to the Elevate email, a water pipe burst on the second-floor parking garage, close to where Western Washington University student Autumn Winsheimer lives. Her floor was the last to have power and running water.
“I went to my friend’s apartment at Stateside where they had power by then,” Winsheimer said. “I ended up having to shower and eat at her apartment because I just couldn’t do that [at Elevate].”
“I had to bring my tortoise to a different house because they had power. … She needs her heat lamp, but I couldn’t bring [it] so I just had her in a cardboard box,” Winsheimer said.
The power outage affected over 2,000 citizens in Whatcom County, with Puget Sound Energy working to restore power throughout the area. Stateside – another apartment complex in downtown Bellingham – also dealt with the power outage. While Elevate remained powerless, Stateside’s power returned later that night.
PSE System Operations determined that the outage in the area of North State Street near Laurel was caused by equipment failure. Power returned to citizens in the area by 10:54 p.m., yet PSE – tasked with bringing power back throughout Bellingham – received reports that Elevate’s electricity was still out.
Veronica Schindler, the community manager at Elevate Bellingham, said in an email that an electrician discovered a main breaker issue that required a master electrician’s attention.
“Once we were updated on the situation, we quickly called in a Siemens [Energy] representative to come out as soon as possible,” Schindler said. “Based on their availability, they were able to dispatch a technician from Tacoma on Saturday morning.”
Several hours later at 1:20 p.m., both the power and water were fully restored to Elevate on Saturday, Jan. 13.
Andrew Padula, the media engagement consultant at PSE, said PSE works throughout the year on key projects that increase reliability, such as maintaining power throughout Bellingham during future cold spells.
“We monitor the weather and have crews ready to respond to outages when they occur so we can restore power as quickly and as safely as possible,” Padula said via email. “Our crews are consistently monitoring for this across the more than 27,000 miles of wire we have, trying to identify problems before they turn into outages.”
As for Elevate, the complex plans to bring in an engineer to re-evaluate the main breaker and adjust the power levels, Schindler said via email. Additionally, the apartment building sent out mass emails to every resident to help facilitate a winterized building.
As the outage finally ended and power returned to the block and Elevate, Western Washington University student Tyson Perez recalled how despite the difficulties the power outage brought for him, he still found a way to enjoy his night.
“It was unfortunate, the power seemed to be out for the whole block so everything was just black except for the emergency lights,” Perez said. “It just messed up what I had planned for the night but it gave my roommates and me a chance to gamble under a flashlight so that was fun.”
Jordan Brotamonte (she/her) is an opinions reporter for The Front this quarter. In her free time, she skis, takes photographs, and spends most of her time trying new coffee shops around Bellingham or exploring new places outdoors. You can reach her at email@example.com.