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Spooky household happenings can be scientifically explained

The electric power to my home would go off and come back on immediately, sometimes as often as three times an hour. This was very annoying as it caused me to have to reset five electric clocks.

My Cobra portable telephone began to malfunction and eventually quit working. I bought another Cobra portable and the same thing happened. I took both phones in for repair and learned that they had been knocked out by power surges when the lights kept going on and off. They were both beyond repair.

I thought Florida Power should replace my phones, so I contacted them. I have also found out that others have lost portable telephones as I did. Florida Power has said it will not pay such claims. I think they should be held responsible. Ralph Neeley

Response: Melodye Hendrix of Florida Power said you reported your two damaged phones to Florida Power at 4:22 p.m. Jan. 29 and requested that your service be investigated.

The equipment servicing your home was checked on Feb. 3. No voltage problems were found. You initially were satisfied with the reply given to you.

However, on Feb. 5, you called Florida Power and said you weren't satisfied. You believed they were switching transformers and causing your problems.

Florida Power's records show that the last outage you experienced came as the result of a hurricane on Aug. 2, 1995.

Tom Moorhouse from the company's claims department explained that you were experiencing feeder-operations, not power surges. The power was being momentarily interrupted; it was going off and on. That happens, Moorhouse said, when circuit breakers in the substations sense something, such as a tree branch, on the feeder line serving your area and shut the power down. The power then immediately comes back on.

If the problem still exists, the power shuts down again. The third shut-down in a row results in a "dead fault." At that point, the power must be manually turned back on and that is done only after a crew has been dispatched to find the cause and fix the problem.

These kinds of power interruptions are a normal part of any electrical distribution system and would not have damaged your equipment. The cause of the problem you have had with your phones is unknown and Florida Power will not reimburse you for them.

We also spoke with Gary Sedan, marketing manager for cordless telephones at Cobra Electronics Corp. in Chicago. We wanted to find out whether the power interruptions you described could cause irreparable damage to your phones.

Sedan said that, generally, a power interruption won't damage a portable phone. Sometimes, however, the microprocessor that controls the phone can enter a condition called latch-up. This means that the microprocessor or computer gets stuck and the phone does not operate properly or at all. Ninety-nine percent of the time when that occurs _ and Sedan stressed that it's very rare _ unplugging the phone and plugging it back in will reset the microprocessor.

If you have a question for Action, or your attempts to resolve a consumer complaint have failed, write: Times Action, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or call your Action number, 893-8171, or, outside of Pinellas, (800) 333-7505, ext. 8171, to leave a recorded request for Action. Names will not be omitted except in unusual circumstances. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.