26 electricity poles in a row collapse on a street in Seattle for no apparent reason

26 electricity poles in a row collapse on a street in Seattle for no apparent reason

© Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times

Mike Lindblom
Seattle Times

Two people were trapped in their car, center, for more than an hour after 26 power poles came crashing down on East Marginal Way on Friday afternoon. The two were discharged from the hospital late Friday.

The more than two dozen power poles that collapsed near the Museum of Flight on Friday underwent a “full inspection” three years ago, and showed no risks of a mass failure, said Debra Smith, the recently-hired CEO of Seattle City Light.

Some were replaced in 2016 as a result, some were due to be replaced within five years, and others had many years remaining, “but there were none that were outside of the identified life span,” Smith said in an interview Saturday.

Engineers this weekend are examining the 26 snapped wooden poles for clues, and walking East Marginal Way South to determine how and where to rebuild lines west of the huge roadway, she said.

City Light doesn’t have an explanation yet about why any of the poles suddenly toppled at 4 p.m. Friday, causing a domino effect where not just one but an entire row snapped.

The incident – which included the astonishing rescue of two people trapped inside a car by a tangle of live wires and a pole that had smashed through the windshield – raises questions: Why did poles break on the west side of the six-lane road but not the east side? Why would so many topple together? Were they carrying an excessive weight or number of distribution lines?

Some people who work nearby, or took photos, have conjectured that rotten wood succumbed during spring gusts.

Weather may have triggered the failure, but the showers and wind Friday weren’t unusual for spring in Seattle. According to the National Weather Service, gusts reached 30 mph. Further review didn’t show strong evidence of any freak “microburst,” and no other structures near Boeing Field were damaged, said meteorologist Carly Kovacik.

A witness reported seeing lightning, but that may have been a spark near a pole, a City Light spokesman said. The weather service said there were no lightning strikes.

The Tukwila Police Department released video of power lines striking a car in Tukwila on Friday, April 5, 2019. A couple in the car suffered minor injuries.

A possible factor, Smith said, is the posts are 90 feet tall to allow Boeing to roll airplanes out of hangars and cross the road to King County International Airport. If a pole falls, the torque is much greater than with shorter utility poles, she said. In addition, they carry large, heavy distribution lines from Tukwila toward central Seattle.

Utility workers quickly cleared the tangle of wires and broken posts overnight, and by Saturday only 13 customers remained without electricity. Power was out at some Boeing offices and buildings, while a few businesses in the area were using temporary generators, said City Light spokeswoman Julie Moore.

The street was fully reopened around 2:30 p.m. Saturday, with four-way stops replacing some traffic signals, Tukwila police said. The corridor is within Tukwila city limits but supplied by Seattle’s electric utility.

On Friday, officials reported 24 poles fell, but increased the count to 26 on Saturday.

Some metal streetlights and traffic signals were also pulled or knocked down, pictures show. For a time, live wires draped the museum’s tubular pedestrian bridge. The two people trapped in the car Friday were discharged from Harborview Medical Center late Friday, and Smith said she’s thankful they weren’t hurt seriously.

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About the author

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com; on Twitter: @MikeLindblom. Staff reporter Mike Lindblom covers transportation for The Seattle Times.

Comment: Ok, now that is weird.

Some kind of power surge? Perhaps not via the power grid per se (which utilities and companies would have noticed), but from the atmosphere? From below ground? But then why would such an externally-sourced surge snap strong wooden poles in the same manner along a discrete, specific area?

An eyewitness in this King 5 Seattle News report describes seeing “a flash of light” and hearing “an explosion” just before “they all came tumbling down…”

This ABC News report includes footage from people’s camera-phones, recorded shortly aft it happened. The weather doesn’t look particularly windy, though there could still have been a super-brief meteorological micro-burst moments before…

Here’s CCTV footage of the moment it happened. It is overcast, raining, and somewhat windy, but the trees in the background don’t move as much as one might expect during the intensity of a micro-burst:

Also notice how, in the second angle CCTV view, beginning at 00:35, there’s a flash, followed by the pole in view beginning to keel over. Note also that it broke right at its base, at ground level…

More info from another Seattle Times report:

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Seattle said there were no Boeoi strikes in Western Washington on Friday.

There was a decent burst of wind accompanied by moderate rain earlier in the day, but nothing particularly alarming, said Carly Kovacik, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.

Around 16,500 customers in South Seattle, Tukwila, Burien and White Center lost power as a result of the incident, but power was restored to all but 300 of them by 6 p.m., according to Seattle City Light. Some Boeing offices in the area lost power, White said.

David Drum, a structural engineer who works at Boeing, said he left his office around 4:15 p.m. and saw at least 10 poles on the ground on the west side of the street.

“It was really dramatic. Really dystopian. The poles were snapped. They hit the ground with enough force and splintered,” he said. “It must have taken a lot of force to do what I saw.”

Indeed, it’s as if some powerful EM force bent everything – power poles, street signs, a couple of trees, street lights – over, in one direction and on one side of the street.

Also, Seattle City Light power company has announced that an unnamed “third party” will be conducting an “independent” investigation into what happened. Hmmm…

It’s very interesting that Boeing HQ is located nearby… in fact, it’s located RIGHT THERE!

boeing seattle power poles

Rough location of downed power poles in red. Known Boeing, Inc. facilities marked in yellow…

The mile-long stretch where these poles broke corresponds more or less exactly with the stretch of East Marginal Way in Seattle where Boeing offices, hangars and testing centers are located. Boeing Field airport, named after the founder of the major airplane and weapons company, runs parallel to this stretch of road…

Boeing’s run of bad luck continues…

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