September 12, 2005

Utility mistake triggers huge Los Angeles blackout

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A utility worker overloaded an
electrical circuit and caused a massive power blackout across
much of Los Angeles on Monday, snarling traffic, stranding
office workers in elevators and sending fire trucks with
blaring sirens racing around the city

Some two million people were hit by the outage, which
plunged busy intersections into chaos, jammed cars on the
freeways and sent office workers streaming out of downtown
buildings to mill about on sidewalks. Those trapped in
elevators made frantic calls for help.

The utility worker "directed too much amperage into a
circuit that did not have the capacity to handle it," said Kim
Hughes, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Water
and Power.

The resulting power surge triggered a safety mechanism that
shut the system down, Hughes said, knocking out power for more
half the city's four million people as well as some surrounding
communities and north into the San Fernando Valley.

Power was largely restored within 90 minutes, but the
outage jangled nerves in Los Angeles one day after a masked man
thought to be an al Qaeda associate threatened America's
second-largest city in a videotape released on the anniversary
of the September 11 attacks.

"The fact that this happened the day after September 11
(caused) a heightened sense of concern," said Los Angeles Mayor
Antonio Villaraigosa. "I am here to assure you that our city is
prepared to handle these situations. In fact power was restored
to the vast majority of DWP customers, 90 percent, within the
first two hours."


Some, remembering the collapse of the World Trade Center
towers on September 11, abandoned their high-rise offices
despite assurances from security personnel that they should
remain at their desks.

"When they said to stay, I thought 'I'm going,"' clerical
worker Erica Fernandez told Reuters.

State and local authorities have dismissed the videotaped
threats, saying that there was no credible evidence of a plan
for an imminent terrorist strike against Los Angeles.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said
federal agents monitored the situation but said there was "no
indication of a nexus to terrorism."

Though there was no sign of sabotage, authorities declared
a state of emergency and police went on "full tactical alert"
shortly after the 12:35 p.m. PDT (3:35 p.m. EDT) blackout,
which struck seemingly random parts of the city.

Los Angeles International Airport reported losing power
briefly but said back-up systems had averted flight

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation
Authority said subway and rail lines were operating with some
delays but that no riders had been stranded or trapped.

Gasoline prices jumped more than 7 cents in the city after
three refineries went offline and local hospitals canceled
procedures scheduled for the afternoon.

Television images showed confusion at major intersections
as motorists tried to navigate through darkened stoplights and
traffic backed up on exit ramps, clogging the freeways.