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Normal life starts resuming after power restored in San Diego

September 9, 2011 |  6:20 am

Click here for more photos of the blackout.Thirteen hours after an unprecedented outage left a huge swath of Southern California without power and brought normal life to a halt, power was restored to all 1.4 million customers of San Diego Gas & Electric, the biggest service area.

In all, about 4 million customers lost power Thursday afternoon in San Diego and Orange counties, the Inland Empire and parts of Mexico. For many of these customers, power was restored Thursday night and early Friday morning. It was unclear how many remained without power.

But the biggest outage was in San Diego County, where people were trapped in elevators and on rides at Sea World in San Diego and Legoland in Carlsbad. Hospital emergency rooms switched to backup generators and airline departures from Lindbergh Field in San Diego were canceled for several hours.

PHOTOS: Blackout leaves millions without power

All public schools in San Diego County were expected to remain closed Friday. Capistrano Unified in Orange County also said that even though the power had returned, their schools would also remain closed so that staff could ensure the safe restoration of utilities and electrical systems.

At 4:30 a.m. Friday, San Diego Gas & Electric announced that power was restored for its 1.4 million customers.

Dave Geier, a company vice president, said that despite the return of power, customers should try to use electricity sparingly, lest they overload the system.

"The system is still fragile," he said.

The blackout was triggered by a mishap on a high-voltage power line linking Arizona and San Diego, causing a cascading series of electrical grid failures stretching into Southern California.

APS, which is Arizona's largest electric utility, said a worker was doing maintenance on lines at a nearby substation when the blackout occurred.

"The outage appears to be related to a procedure an APS employee was carrying out in the North Gila substation," an APS spokesman said in a statement. "Operating and protection protocols typically would have isolated the resulting outage to the Yuma area. The reason that did not occur in this case will be the focal point of the investigation into the event, which already is underway."

The worker's action apparently caused the San Onofre nuclear power plant to go offline, officials said, along with a "cascading" effect on other sources.

Geier said the outage was unprecedented. "We've never had this happen before, and we see no reason it will happen again," he said.

A multi-agency investigation is being launched to determine the cause of the outage, which struck the entire SDG&E service area in San Diego County, southern Orange County and parts of Riverside County.


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Photo: Pedestrians navigate in the dark through the Gas Lamp District of San Diego on Thursday night. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times