Blackouts catch California off guard |

Blackouts catch California off guard

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) – Monday’s rolling blackouts trapped elevator passengers, forced businesses to close, left some intersections clogged with car crashes and generally surprised a state that prides itself on making disaster preparedness a way of life.

”You can’t make soda, you can’t make coffee, you can’t do nothing,” said Jimmy Sueyoshi, an employee at Ida’s Coffee here.

The blackouts began at noon, sweeping from San Francisco south to San Diego and as far east as the Nevada line.

”It’s never a good time for the power to go out,” said Diane Carlini, a spokeswoman for Sun Microsystems Inc. Up to 2,000 of the network equipment maker’s employees were evacuated from its San Diego office and Newark factory because of the outages.

The blackouts were the first anywhere in California since January, and the first for the southern part of the state since the current power crisis began.

In Long Beach, about half the port city went dark.

”It’s unexpected because we went through so many days where we had Stage 3 alerts, but we frankly never anticipated it would get here,” said Kathy Parsons, a city spokeswoman. ”I think people started taking it for granted, ‘Oh well, another Stage 3.”’

The blackouts were ordered by the California Independent System Operator, which blamed high demand and a lack of electricity from the Northwest as it ordered the state’s two biggest utilities to cut a total of 1,000 megawatts, enough power for roughly 1 million homes.

”What scares me is it’s not even summer yet. This is definitely a problem and I hope the state gets it straightened out,” said Edward White, co-owner of Pacific Pawn in West Hollywood. ”There is no solution unless they raise rates or build new generators.”

In many cities, traffic signals went dark, tying up traffic.

”It was treacherous on the streets of Santa Monica today trying to get to lunch,” said Vanessa Reyes, who works at MTV’s West Coast headquarters. ”Not only were there no lights, there were no policemen.”

A downtown area of Ventura lost electric power at midday – with several people trapped in a darkened elevator near the 11th floor of the 22-story Dean Witter Building. Before the hourlong outage ended, maintenance workers were able to help the elevator passengers escape through an opening in the car’s roof.

C.G. Kum said he was not in the elevator, but went down stairs from the 21st floor.

”We were led down by a gentleman using a candle. We had to be very careful,” Kum said.

No power meant no work for Californians up and down the state.

”Everything has come to a stop,” said Joan Tockey, an accounts clerk at Mahogany Smoked Meats and Meadow Farms Country Smokehouse in Bishop, about a 270-mile drive north of Los Angeles. ”We’ll have to lock the door.”

At San Francisco City College, the computerized card catalogs went dark, leaving Manly Horowitz idle at the library’s reference desk.

”At this end of the building, people who aren’t using computers are just studying, sitting peacefully at their tables doing their work,” Horowitz said.

The possibility of rolling blackouts in posh Beverly Hills had Oscar organizers bracing for the worst, including the upscale Raffles L’Ermitage hotel, where dozens of top designers, hairstylists and makeup artists have set up shop this week for the Oscars.

”Oh God, isn’t this crazy?” asked Ted Kruckel, spokesman for jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels and Helena Rubinstein’s Heather Canavan. ”We’ve got hundreds of thousands of dollars wrapped up in this. It’s something I don’t understand. Why Oscar week? Why can’t the power go out during hockey season?”

At a Weinerschnitzel restaurant in Vista, 30 miles north of San Diego, cashiers took meal orders by hand, approaching customers at their car windows in the drive-through lane and tallying bills by calculator.

In San Diego, about 600 customers were evacuated from a Wal-Mart store that lost power.

”It’s very inconvenient for our customers,” assistant manager Bobbi Brislin said.

In the warm sun, workers passed out free cans of soda to the few customers who rode out the outage.

When the power returned at 2:50 p.m., the small crowd cheered.

White, the West Hollywood pawn shop co-owner, said Gov. Gray Davis ”better start getting in there with these guys and wrap this up.”

”If they don’t do it, the economy of California will suffer. The big companies in the state will go elsewhere,” White said.

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