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Southern California tries to get back on track after blackout

September 9, 2011 |  9:24 am

Click here for more photos of the blackout. As the sun came up Friday morning, businesses were reopening their doors and life was returning to normal after an unprecedented power outage left about 4 million people in San Diego, Mexico and other parts of Southern California without power.

Southern California Gas & Electric announced early Friday morning that the company had worked through the night to successfully restore power to all 1.4 million customers by about 4:30 a.m.

All public schools in San Diego County remained closed Friday, along with schools in Capistrano Unified in Orange County. The news of an unexpected three-day weekend caused jubilation for students, who began making plans on Twitter to head to the beach and revel in the West Coast version of a snow day.

PHOTOS: Blackout leaves millions without power

At the airport in San Diego, flights were back on track and by 8:30 a.m., no problems were reported.

Meanwhile, grocery stores were reportedly tossing out meat and other spoiled products. And gas stations throughout downtown San Diego looked like used-car lots. Hundreds of vehicles were abandoned by drivers during the power failure because they were low on fuel and they did not want to get caught in traffic snarls.

A Shell station near the 10th Avenue exit off Interstate 5 had more than a dozen cars parked between the gas pumps. But, as station owner Bob Stivers put it, the pumps “are not communicating this morning.”

As technicians worked to repair the computer system at the station, Stivers was having to wave off prospective customers. He did not expect his pumps to start working again until roughly 9 a.m.

"We have one-half of one pump out of a total six pumps working this morning. Don’t ask me why," Stivers said in exasperation.

The power outage also put hospitality to the test at hotels in San Diego, an internationally-known vacation spot.

The frills at the best seaside hotels amounted to a flashlight to help customers get to their rooms. There was no television, no power for computers, no ice for drinks in sweltering rooms where the AC was not working. In some cases, hotel staff had to let customers into their rooms with master keys.

At 430-room Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, General Manager Jeff Pace said “the power outage made a very interesting evening.”

Pace said his staff kept guests informed throughout the evening on the outage with regular messages to their rooms. With the array of local restaurants shuttered, the in-house catering staff stepped up. “We served food and beverages late into the evening,” he said.

The power in Mission Bay came back on at 1:14 a.m. and that allowed the staff to ensure that all the guests were able to get their usual continental breakfasts. “All our operations should be back to normal by 10 a.m.”

In the shadow of Sea World, The Dana on Mission Bay staff also had to step up to ensure guests had plenty of food and water, said Steve Knowlton, a supervisor. “We had plenty of supplies,” he said. “This morning, everything is thankfully back to normal.”

At the Harbor House Cafe in Dana Point, manager Sergio A. Cueva said they were back to flipping pancakes -- although to a slightly smaller crowd.

“The power is on and breakfast is being served,” Cueva said. “But it is not quite as busy as usual. People are only now realizing the power is back … I’d expect it will get busy late."

And although the power was back on, San Diego Gas & Electric Vice President Dave Geier urged customers to use electricity sparingly, lest they overload the system.

"The system is still fragile," he said.

The two nuclear reactors at San Onofre nuclear power plant also remained in "safe shutdown" as operators continue to review events with a view to restoring the units, said Gil Alexander, spokesman for Southern California Edison.

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-- Louis Sahagun and Tony Perry in San Diego and Richard Winton in Los Angeles

Photo: Computer screens are dark, forcing Southwest Airlines staff to do manual check-ins at San Diego's Lindbergh Field on Friday morning. Lots of passengers stranded at the airport stood in long lines to get a flight out. Although power was restored at 3:30 a.m., computers remained down. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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