The Hannibal Board of Public Works regrets that a July 24 voltage surge damaged personal property in approximately a half dozen downtown homes, but its sympathy is all it can extend to residents who in some cases suffered thousands of dollars of loss.
"I'm sorry that our equipment failure caused damage in people's homes. That is really regrettable. We rarely do (cause damage), but in this case we did and now we're kind of limited in how we can help," said Bob Stevenson, general manager of the BPW.
Residents of the neighborhood wish they were receiving checks from the BPW, rather than condolences.
"They damaged a lot of stuff, but we're stuck with the bill," said Greg Charlton, who lost a furnace motor, television and two fans.
The BPW submitted damage claims to its insurer, the Missouri Intergovermental Risk Management Association (MIRMA).
"All of those (claims) were denied on the basis that we can't insure other people's property. This is a standard insurance industry practice," said Stevenson. "MIRMA would have paid damages had we been negligent in some way, but we were not. Equipment failure just happens. If we had done something negligently like throwing switches out of sequence or something of that nature, and we had caused damage to homes, then MIRMA would have been mad, but they would have covered it. In this case where it's just a failure of equipment, it's like an act of God, a lightning strike or something like that."
Such a surge of voltage is rare.
"I think we had one lineman who had seen it once before and he's a 20-year veteran," said Stevenson.
Danny Charlton, who estimates losing around $3,000 in appliances, is already replacing lost items.
"My house insurance is going to pay for part of it, minus my deductible," he said.
Not everyone had insurance to help cover their losses.
"We did learn that several of those individuals were in rental properties and their furniture and appliances were not covered with renters' insurance which left them completely exposed," said Stevenson.
Duane Bowen of 220 S. Seventh St. didn't even bother filing a claim through the BPW.
"I ain't playing with them. There's no sense in it," he said. "I just bought (new items) outright."
Problems arose the morning of July 24 when a pole-mounted transformer behind Ten Pin Alleys failed.
"Due to the peculiar nature of that failure we introduced some voltage on our secondaries in that neighborhood that was quite a bit higher than normal, like 600 volts rather than 240," said Stevenson.
And while some households in the neighborhood lost power, others saw the jump in voltage.
Page 2 of 2 - "We never lost power," said Danny Charlton, whose refrigerator, dishwasher, kitchen range, toaster, microwave, computer were either damaged or destroyed at his 705 Lyon St.
According to Danny Charlton, his wife first knew something was amiss when their toaster started glowing a bright red.
"Outlets started popping where things were plugged into," he said. "I don't know what would have happened if my wife had touched the toaster. She might have been killed."
Bowen sensed something wasn't right.
"I heard popping outside and thought it was fireworks, and the lights were flickering. Then smoke started rolling out of the flat screen TV I'd been watching," said Bowen, who lost two televisions and a Blu-ray DVD player.
At 701 Lyon St., which Danny Charlton also owns, the surge of voltage started a fire on the exterior of the home.
"I just happened to be outside and I could hear the electricity and smoke started rolling out. That's when I seen the meter was on fire," he said. "When a lineman showed up he popped the meter off fire shot out of the meter."
At that point the Hannibal Fire Department was summoned to the scene.
"We found that meter on the outside of that residence was blacked out. It got a quick charge of voltage and it just burnt it up," said Assistant Fire Chief Sean Hampton. "We did a door-to-door canvas through a two block area there checking with residences, seeing if they had any electrical problems. There were a few people whose meter boxes were burnt up. Some had even more extensive damage in their home."
While firefighters were advising residents to turn their power off at the main breaker until the BPW had a handle on the situation, disconnecting service that day likely could not have happened quick enough to prevent some damage, according to Stevenson.
"The damage was essentially instantaneous and of a nature where most circuit breakers would not have tripped because they're current activated, not voltage activated," he said.