Major power outage in US southwest, Mexico

September 9, 2011 7:30 am

, LOS ANGELES, Sept 9 – A massive power outage triggered traffic gridlock and left at least 1.4 million customers without electricity overnight into Friday in southern California, Arizona and Mexico, officials said.

Amid sweltering temperatures, a number of people had to be rescued from stuck elevators and theme park rides, reports said, while two units at a nuclear power plant tripped offline, as designed.

San Diego airport canceled all departures after the failure on a 500-kilovolt line, which left people sweating through a miniature heat wave without air conditioning or power for fridges.

There was no suggestion that terrorism caused the outage, which comes amid jitters ahead of the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.

Arizona power company APS said it appeared to be related to a procedure by one of its employees in a substation near Yuma in the west of the state, which somehow triggered a wider shutdown.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDGE) said an incident in the network between Arizona and California had caused the outage, which also affected neighboring Mexico.

“1.4 million of our customers are currently without power,” the company said on Twitter, adding: “An event happened between AZ and CA. Both major connections to our region have been lost.

“This outage has affected Mexico and Baja,” it said, referring to Baja California, the Mexican peninsula stretching south from below San Diego.

By late Thursday evening local time SDGE said it had restored power to 18,000 customers in Orange County, but its technicians were still struggling to turn the current back on more widely.

“A few customers on tonight, but most on tomorrow afternoon,” it said in a later tweet.

Traffic lights were knocked out across the region, triggering monster traffic jams, and the Metrolink transport system in Orange County was also disrupted.

Two units at the San Onofre power plant, one of California’s two nuclear plants, went offline automatically, officials said, adding that backup power was available.

Emergency services had responded to at least half a dozen calls to rescue people stuck in elevators, said Orange County Fire Authority spokesman Mark Stone.

Both SeaWorld and Legoland reported that visitors had to be rescued from rides, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, although there was no immediate confirmation from either of the parks.

The California Independent System Operator Corporation (ISO), which runs the state’s power grid, had earlier said “a transmission emergency” had cut the flow of imported power into the most southern portion of the state.

Temperatures have been sweltering in recent days in southern California, boosting the use of air conditioning.

“Hot days in a row like we have had create lots of power flowing,” SDGE tweeted, while urging customers to turn off air condition units, or risk triggering a new surge and shutdown when electricity comes back on.


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