Power surge knocks out electrical service across parts of D.C.

A power surge temporarily knocked out power to the White House, State Department and wide swaths of the nation’s capital and its Maryland suburbs early Tuesday afternoon.

D.C. homeland security officials, utility providers and law enforcement officers in Charles County, Md., said a fire or explosion at an electrical facility in Southern Maryland appeared to be the source of the surge.

The incident left passengers in darkened underground Metro stations, halted elevators in office buildings and forced the entire University of Maryland campus in College Park to close early as it remained unclear when power would be restored to some parts of the region.

The surge also triggered dozens of federal buildings and government facilities to flip over to emergency backup generators, and, coming in the nation’s capital, where tight security precautions are routine out of fears of terrorism, left many residents jittery until the source of the failure began to emerge.

By 2:30 p.m., homeland security officials both locally and nationally said it appeared that terrorism was not an issue.

“Early indications are that there is no apparent link to terrorism,” a U.S. official said.

Chris T. Geldart, director of the D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, characterized the incident as a broad power surge that originated at an electrical facility in southern Maryland.

He said any District facility with a critical operations center flipped over to emergency backup power. That appeared to include the White House, State Department and many District offices. The Wilson Building, which houses the offices of the mayor and D.C. Council, was temporarily evacuated until backup power kicked on.

President Obama was in the Oval Office during the incident, but White House press secretary Josh Earnest said there was no sense inside there that there was any problem.

Some White House staff offices at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building were affected. Earnest said it was not clear how many offices in West Wing were affected.

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