Wiring mishap puts Los Angeles in dark

By wire services
Published September 13, 2005

LOS ANGELES - Large areas of Los Angeles lost power on Monday after utility workers installing a system upgrade mistakenly cut several lines, officials said.

About 2-million people were affected by the resulting power surge and outages, which were reported from downtown west to the Pacific Coast and north into the San Fernando Valley.

The outage began about 12:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m. EDT) when workers installing an automated alert system cut several wires simultaneously, instead of one at a time, according to Ed Miller of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

That caused the short that led to all the trouble. Utility officials initially said the outage occurred when the cables were incorrectly reconnected.

The electricity surge to the remaining lines overloaded the system and caused a shutdown at the receiving station where the DWP employees were working. The station converts high voltage power from generating stations to low voltage power used by businesses and residents.

The systemwide alert prompted two generating stations and other receiving stations to shut down. As a result, the department began "shedding" customers, cutting power to people across the city to stabilize lines.

Downtown high-rises went dark, fire officials said they received reports of people stuck in elevators, and stoplights went out across the city. Neighboring cities, including Burbank and Glendale, also were affected.

The Los Angeles Police Department went on "full tactical alert," meaning no officers were allowed to leave work when their shifts were over. But calm prevailed in downtown Los Angeles, with office workers taking the opportunity for an extended lunch as police and fire sirens echoed in the background.

By around 2 p.m. (5 p.m. EDT), the department had restored power to most customers. By late afternoon, about 40,000 out of 1.4-million customers remained without power.

The blackout came a day after ABC aired a videotape of a purported al-Qaida member making terrorist threats against Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia, on the fourth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. But even before the utility explained what happened, Homeland Security Department spokesman Russ Knocke said there was no indication of terrorism.

Still, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recognized that the timing "created a heightened sense of concern."

Some Los Angeles neighborhoods did not lose power at all.

Los Angeles International Airport lost power, but its emergency generator kicked in promptly and no flights were affected, said Harold Johnson, an airport spokesman. Hospitals across Los Angeles reported power outages, but all said their emergency generators immediately kicked in. Patient care was not disrupted.

Los Angeles operates its own power utility, which serves 1.4-million electricity customers. Customers of Southern California Edison, the largest utility in Southern California, were not affected, according to spokesman Gil Alexander.

--Information from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and New York Times was used in this report.