SHAMOKIN - A mechanical failure caused a transformer to blow and knock out electric service to 1,866 PPL customers Friday morning.

The outage occurred about 10:45 a.m. at Ninth and Commerce streets, between Sunbury and Independence streets.

The incident was unrelated to the ongoing project to replace the street lighting system along Independence Street, a company spokeswoman said.

Patrolman William Zalinski saw the power line arc three times. He shouted to three pedestrians on Ninth Street who were slow to flee the area, and did the same when a woman leaving First United Methodist Church, Sunbury Street, attempted to walk downhill to her vehicle.

"It was probably a good 12 foot circumference when it arced," Zalinski said, adding that there were flames at the base of the utility pole.

The outage affected customers at least as far east as Shamokin Street and as far west as Market Street, and customers on Sunbury and Lincoln streets.

A PPL crew was on scene within 30 minutes, and Ninth Street was blocked off. People from downtown storefronts and offices milled about the scene. A power line was slung high above ground with a piece of smoldering utility pole attached. Other debris smoldered on the ground.

Service was restored to almost all customers within the hour, as well as to the traffic lights along Sunbury street from Mount Carmel Street to the Cameron Bridge.

Ten customers near where the transformer malfunctioned remained without power until about 4 p.m.

Businesses adapt

Jones Hardware and Pat's Pizza in the 100 block of East Independence Street appeared to be the last of the downtown customers without electric service.

Pizza was still baking in the natural gas ovens at Pat's Pizza after the outage, but without electricity to the coolers or overhead lights, owner Patrick Giarrizzo and an employee couldn't make much headway on preparation work ahead of an anticipated surge in business Friday night.

"My ovens are working, I'm up and running, but without lights it's hard to do anything," Giarrizzo said.

When the outage occurred, he said the sound was so loud he thought a motorist had crashed into the rear of his building.

Jones Hardware was dark but employees had flashlights at the ready. When customers came inside, workers led them to what they needed to purchase. Business as usual, almost. The cash register wasn't working, so they filled out receipts by hand and made change the old-fashioned way.

The hardware store's neighbors, including immediate next door neighbor Permanent Solution salon and others on the same block, were among the customers who regained power within the hour.