Lights out: Power outage leaves 1 million in the dark in California
A massive power outage that struck portions of California, Arizona and Mexico left more than 1 million people in the dark Friday, officials said.
The outage that struck Thursday afternoon wreaked havoc in one of the most populous regions of the Southwest, snarling traffic, shuttering thousands of businesses, trapping people inside elevators and forcing the shut down of two nuclear power reactors, officials said.
Workers were scrambling to restore power after a high-voltage power line between Arizona and California was tripped out of service, according to a statement released by San Diego Gas & Electric.
By late Thursday, power had been restored to thousands in California’s San Diego and Orange counties, though more than a million people were still without power, the company said.
“It’s going to be a slow march through tomorrow,” Michael Niggli, president of San Diego Gas & Electricity, told reporters late Thursday.
The blackout also forced the closure of San Diego International Airport and a number of train stations, stranding thousands of passengers, authorities said.
All outbound flights were cancelled and incoming flights were rerouted to nearby regional airports, according to a statement posted on the airport’s website.
Authorities were investigating what caused the power to shut off, though they ruled out terrorism and reassured thousands of their safety just days ahead of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
“Considering the fact that we are so close to the 11th, subconsciously I think it was hitting people a bit,” said Ryan Valencia, 33, of San Diego.
Valencia was among the thousands who got caught on the road in huge traffic jams that occurred when power went out to light signals. He said he spoke with his girlfriend and her family, who also asked if the blackout was related to a terror incident.
“In all honesty, at first I did think it was a little too convenient, a little too widespread,” Valencia said. “I thought it was a little fishy.”
Power went out about 3:45 p.m. in San Diego, said Joe Pettigrew, who said he was trapped on the 10th floor of an office building.
“We don’t have air conditioning and the windows don’t open,” he said, noting that it was about 80 degrees outside.
The Arizona Power Service described the cause of the shut off as an “employee generated event,” saying in a statement that “the outage appeared to be related to procedure an APS employee was carrying out” at a substation near Yuma.
“Normal protection protocols should have prevented the outage. But this time, they didn’t,” Damon Gross, an Arizona Power Service spokesman, said.
Daniel Froetscher, a vice president at APS, told reporters it was premature to call it “human error,” saying it would take several days to complete an investigation.
Officials warned it would take until at least Friday to restore power in portions of San Diego and Orange counties.
“Again, it’s a slow process. It’s going to take a long time to bring the power,” San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders told reporters.
Additional firefighters and law enforcement personnel were being brought in to help answer emergency calls, he said.
The power outage also shut down sewage stations, causing raw sewage to run into a lagoon, river and a portion of San Diego Bay, officials said.
Tens of thousands were warned to boil water after a number of pump stations and filtration systems shut down, Sanders said.
Emergency generators were being delivered to a number of hospitals and water pump stations, and county and utility officials were going door-to-door to check on people who rely on life support machines, Niggli said.
The mayor warned residents to stay off the road and limit cellular phone service. County officials cancelled all public school classes on Friday.
The power line break “caused our line from AZ and from the north of our region to both trip off,” the utility posted on its Twitter account.
“Think of the system as linked by springs, when one part goes out the rest are affected,” another Twitter post from the utility said.
The power outage shut down two reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, California, authorities said.
The reactors went into normal shutdown mode after the units detected “grid disturbance,” authorities said.
“The San Onofre plant won’t be back for a couple of days,” Niggli told reporters.
At the height of the power outage, San Diego Gas & Electric said all of its 1.4 million customers were without power. Power outages in California stretched from San Clemente in Orange County to the state’s border with Mexico.
In Arizona, about 56,000 customers in Yuma lost power, Arizona Power and Supply said.
Parts of Mexico’s Baja California and Sonora states were also without power, Mexican authorities said.