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Power Outage Hits Six Western States as Temperatures Soar

August 11, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ An intermittent power outage struck at least six Western states on a sweltering Saturday, knocking out air conditioners and traffic lights from San Diego to Oregon and as far east as Texas.

Lights flickered at the site of the Republican National Convention in San Diego, which was otherwise unaffected, but arriving visitors found themselves stuck in hotel elevators.

Hospitals and airports went on emergency power, traffic was snarled and shopping malls closed. Los Angeles put its police on tactical alert, keeping all officers on duty. And in Las Vegas, the gambling went on with most casinos on emergency generators.

``We’re just standing here hoping to God that the power comes back on,″ said Anna Rubio, a Payless Drug Store worker in Sacramento. ``We had all the customers leave, and the employees broke out flashlights.″

The outages began shortly before 4 p.m., on a day when much of the region had temperatures over 100 degrees. It appeared to be intermittent, affecting some areas, with others getting power back quickly.

Reports of downed power stretched from Portland, Ore., and San Francisco, south to Los Angeles, Riverside, Calif., and San Diego, and Las Vegas, Albuquerque, N.M., Phoenix and El Paso, Texas, to the east.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which had about half its 4.5 million customers in Northern California affected by the outage, said there was a ``frequency disruption″ in the Pacific Interconnect, a 500,000 volt electric grid that runs from Canada to the Mexican border. The disruption knocked out three of the utility’s plants.

`When this occurred, they had unusually high demand for a weekend day because of the heat wave,″ said PG&E spokesman Leonard Anderson.

An hour-and-a-half after the initial outage, some 40 percent of the city of Los Angeles _ about 1.25 million people _ were without power, said Department of Water and Power spokesman Ed Friedenberg.

``I suspect heat has been a factor,″ said Southern California Edison spokesman Gary Tarplee.

``We’re responding in what amounts to our earthquake mode,″ said Capt. Dan Young of the neighboring Orange County Fire Department. ``We certainly have had an increase in traffic collisions, since you’ve got thousands of signals with no control on them.″

Outages were reported across the midsection of California. Saturday was the hottest day of the year in that region _ hitting 100 degrees in Bakersfield.

San Francisco police were dispatched to calls around the city of people stuck in elevators.

The weather is a major factor in this power outage even if it was not weather-caused,″ said San Francisco Bay area meteorologist Mike Pechner said. ``The whole I-5 corridor is sizzling.″

Nearly the entire metropolitan Phoenix area was without power, though there were pockets reportedly unaffected.

The Salt River Project said more than 300,000 of its customers in the Phoenix area were without power, and that the utility was operating at about 60 percent of its average.

Most of El Paso, Texas, in the southwest corner of the state also lost power. Service was restored almost immediately in southern and western El Paso, but central and eastern parts of the city were still without into the evening.

In Canada, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation reported outages in parts of Calgary, Alberta. CBC said it also went off the air briefly in Edmonton.

The last major blackout in the West came on July 2, when an outage on an Idaho transmission line, combined with record power demands during hot weather, caused a ripple effect that cut power to 15 Western states and parts of Canada and Mexico. About 2 million people were affected.

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