Power outage panic

When the power went out Wednesday night, it sparked rumours the Whitehorse Rapids Dam was about to burst. When people heard that, they didn't run for the hills. Instead, like moths to a flame, many ran to the dam.

When the power went out Wednesday night, it sparked rumours the Whitehorse Rapids Dam was about to burst.

When people heard that, they didn’t run for the hills. Instead, like moths to a flame, many ran to the dam.

Turns out the rumours were just rumours.

The dam was never in any danger, said Janet Patterson, spokesperson for the Yukon Energy Corporation.

“Whenever there’s a power outage it’s just standard practice that one of the first things we do is start spilling water,” she said. “The water can’t go through the turbines if they’re not running, so we have to spill it.”

It seems a cyclist saw the spill way open and jumped to an erroneous conclusion.

The rumours spread from there, with some help from Twitter and Facebook.

The RCMP was inundated with calls.

Within an hour, they received more than 50 calls from concerned residents, and that does not include the 911 calls or those to other emergency services, said the RCMP’s Sgt. Don Rogers.

“We had officers go down to the dam and they looked at it,” said Rogers. “They contacted Yukon Energy who advised them it wasn’t anything to be concerned about.”

But the officers on scene were concerned about the crowd that was forming at the dam.

They called Rogers in the hopes that he could get the word out, and dispel some of the misinformation.

“We had reports that landlords were going door to door in their buildings telling their tenants that they had to get out,” he said. “We had reports that the RCMP were going door to door telling people to get out. Well, we weren’t.”

The RCMP decided to keep patrols away from Riverdale unless there was a call for service, said Rogers.

“Our members were actually concerned enough if people saw a police car in Riverdale that they would actually panic,” he said. “If you think about it, it’s really sad.”

Rogers contacted radio stations and started posting on Twitter to combat the rumours.

“I think this demonstrates the danger of social media,” said Rogers, “But it also demonstrates the positive side of social media, too.”

Twitter may have been a source of a lot of the false information but, it also helped to disseminate the truth.

“I was able to use Twitter to get the message out from my home that everything was OK,” said Rogers.

Why people would flock to the dam when they thought it might be in danger of failing, Rogers couldn’t say.

“That I don’t understand,” he said.

A downed line near the sewage lagoon caused the power outage that sparked the panic.

A cross beam on one of the poles fell off and downed the line shortly after 8 p.m., said Patterson.

While the lines are visually inspected by helicopter every year, this section hadn’t been checked yet, she said.

“We fly our lines every year and we’re just in the process of doing that,” said Patterson. “That particular cross section we had on the schedule to fly next week.”

More than 10,000 people across the territory were affected by the outage.

While power was restored in Whitehorse within two hours, people in Stewart Crossing and Keno didn’t get theirs back until after 2 a.m.

There was a second power outage yesterday afternoon. It was caused by a gull flying into a substation, said Yukon Electric Company spokesperson Laura Carlson.

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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