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LA blackout traced to utility workers

13 September 2005 – Traffic lights, businesses and ATMs in the city of Los Angeles were plunged into lunchtime darkness when utility workers accidentally sliced several power lines, startling some in a city already jittery following a purported al-Qaida threat.

The mishap, which lasted about 2 1-2 hours Monday, cut power to 750 000 homes and businesses – or about 2 million people – from downtown Los Angeles to Venice Beach to much of the city’s San Fernando Valley.

The outage came just a day after the release of a videotape in which a reported al-Qaida member said Los Angeles was being targeted for attack. The police department ordered all officers to stay on their shifts and surveyed the city by helicopter.

Hospitals, which also lost power, had to resort to emergency generators. Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles suspended all unneeded surgeries for the day.

Electricity-powered devices began shutting down at 12:37 p.m. Power began coming back about 90 minutes later, but electricity wasn’t fully restored until 3 p.m., said Gale Harris, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Ron Deaton, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said city maintenance workers had accidentally cut a line at a receiving station. They then connected it to another line “that was not expecting that amount of electricity”.

The error prompted two generating stations and other receiving stations to shut down. That in turn forced the department to begin cutting power to people across the city to stabilize lines.

Though some power experts said the system performed correctly given the surge, it was the latest indication of the vulnerability of the nation’s electrical grid.

In 2001, power shortages in the state caused rolling blackouts. And a blackout in August 2003 that started in Ohio cascaded across the East and into Canada, affecting 50 million people.

California had to restrict its supply during a 2001 power crisis in the state, imposing rolling cuts.