COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WJZ) — Widespread power outages sweep across Washington, D.C. and Maryland, forcing thousands in the dark, including the White House along with other high security buildings.

Christie Ileto explains the outage started in southern Maryland.

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Officials say that equipment failure in southern Maryland forced federal buildings to evacuate and universities like Maryland to close early.

Witnesses say it sounded like an explosion.

“The sound that you hear from a welder, only this was 1,000 times louder,” said one man.

But it was a 230,000 volt line that shorted. Partially charred ceramic insulators show electric crews what went wrong at a Charles County switching station, causing midday confusion and triggering a widespread blackout across D.C. and its suburbs.

“I can tell you that there was a power outage this afternoon that did briefly have an impact on the White House complex,” said Josh Ernest, White House Press Secretary.

Government agencies went dark. Metro riders searched for exits on dim platforms.

“We tried to get into the Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian. The power was out there,” one man said.

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Even tourists were shut out of museums.

Utility company Pepco says there was never a loss of permanent electricity, but a downed transmission line that caused a dip in voltage.

“I actually thought it was just my building. I didn’t know it was like the whole D.C. area,” said Hima Okpa, student.

The University of Maryland College Park lost service instantly. Classes were canceled by 2 p.m., and still Tuesday evening, the sub remains closed.

“It all went dark and we all started kind of like going, ‘What is going on?’ Within about five minutes, the alarms went off,” said Shelby Vaughn, student.

Firefighters freed 12 people from six elevators on campus, raising suspicions about how it happened.

“We thought it was like terrorists, so we got scared to come to Stamp because it’s the central area,” said Kristine Ugbaja, student.

The Department of Human Services says this is not terror related, but it has crews 40 miles away looking at how to fix the fire and failure that could have been worse.

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The State Department had a similar outage last December, which Pepco said was caused by construction.