Scorching-hot temperatures compound the woes for businesses whose electricity — and air-conditioning — was knocked out by car crash

photo by: Matt Resnick | Journal-World

Customers crowd the lobby of Culver's on south Iowa Street shortly after power was fully restored on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023.

A car crash at West 31st Street and Lawrence Avenue on Sunday created hours of panic and discomfort at nearby businesses and homes, which lost power for hours when the car struck a power pole and knocked out electricity, highlighting our desperation for air conditioning when temperatures hit dangerous highs for days on end.

Sunday was the second day of a triple-digit heat wave in Lawrence, which is expected to last through Thursday.

Courtney Lewis, Evergy’s senior communications manager, confirmed with the Journal-World on Monday that the crash shortly after 1 p.m. led to a blown power transformer, causing lengthy power outages for more than 1,400 customers in south and southwest Lawrence. Power was fully restored at 4:16 p.m., according to Lewis, but not before the outage made things miserable for many — including a number of retailers and customers on south Iowa Street.

Culver’s, a frozen custard and burger chain at 33rd Street and Iowa, was among several businesses that were forced to temporarily halt operations after losing power. Culver’s owner Mark Schuler told the Journal-World that all employees were allowed to leave the premises during the outage, but were required to report back to work within 10 minutes of power restoration.

“They were still being paid and didn’t have to clock out or anything,” he said.

Schuler said that prior to the outage Culver’s was on pace for a record sales week.

“It certainly had a negative impact on our business,” he said, adding that he and his crew were able to avert further disaster by transporting all of the restaurant’s product to a walk-in freezer, which he said remained at cool temperatures. “The outage happened right in the heart of the day, and (we) had at least 15 orders that were pending at that time.”

While the temperature inside the building was around 85 degrees, Culver’s lobby was again bustling with customers by 4:45 p.m. Due to the intense humidity, customers also had to navigate a slick floor, and workers looked heated as they took and prepared orders.

A sign posted on the front doors of Five Below notifies customers that the retailer closed early, on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023.

Nearby HomeGoods was also forced to shutter the store for several hours, while Five Below, a discount store, posted a sign on its front door indicating that it had closed early. The movie theater Regal Southwind was also affected as employees were tasked with shuttling movie-goers out of the building. Those patrons were issued vouchers to come back and see a movie for free.

With temperatures expected to peak at 107 degrees on Thursday and the heat index expected to be even higher, Evergy advised customers to take precautions.

“This week’s extreme heat means increased electricity demand as people run air conditioners to keep up with the heat,” according to a press release on Monday. “Evergy has the generation-capacity available to meet customers’ needs.”

Chuck Caisley, Evergy senior vice president and chief customer officer, defended Evergy’s infrastructure-system as being “reliable,” adding that the number of outages reported over the past several days have fallen within a normal range. He also lauded Evergy crews for quick responses to the outages.

“Evergy performs seasonal maintenance work on its power plants and transmission and distribution systems during mild weather, to help prepare them to meet customer needs during the hot summer months,” Caisley said in the release.

The press release also mentioned tips for avoiding overexerting air-conditioning units, including:

• Cooking with small appliances. Ovens release heat that makes it harder to keep your home cool. Try cooking with appliances that use less energy, such as microwaves, crockpots or an air fryer.

• Close blinds, shades or curtains to block sunlight during the hottest part of the day – especially for south- or west-facing windows.

• Turn ceiling fans counterclockwise to push cool air down. Just remember to turn them off when you leave the room, since fans cool people, not rooms.

• Keep cool air from heading out an exterior door by placing a draft stopper to block gaps at the threshold, adding weatherstripping inside door frames, or attaching a door seal to the bottom of the door.

• Make sure HVAC filters have been changed. Changing them every three months keeps air flowing properly and ensures furnaces and air conditioners work at peak efficiency.

Evergy customers can report an outage by contacting 888-544-4852. For those without access to air conditioning, Evergy encourages customers to seek cooling centers. Evergy customers can call the United Way’s 211 line to find locations.

In Lawrence, those centers are:

• Community Building, 115 W. 11th St.

• East Lawrence Recreation Center, 1245 E. 15th St.

• Holcom Park Recreation Center, 2700 W. 27th St.

More information about the operating hours of each facility is available on the city’s website.

The city is also encouraging people to use Lawrence Transit buses, which remain fare-free through the rest of 2023. The city is asking riders to follow Lawrence Transit’s policy of staying on board a bus for no more than one full loop through a route, after which they’re welcome to transfer to another bus route if desired.


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