Much of Southern California and parts of Arizona and even Mexico came to a standstill Thursday, apparently thanks to a blunder by a single electrical worker in sandy Yuma, Arizona.
Electricity officials blamed “operator error” for an enormous blackout that cast 4 million customers, including pretty much all of San Diego, into darkness beginning around 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Power came back on for many customers early Friday morning.
In the meantime, streets were gridlocked, people were trapped in elevators, and flights from San Diego were canceled, according to the Los Angeles Times. Most gas stations couldn’t pump gas, and cars ran out of fuel and were stranded. Alarms shrieked, sewage pumps failed, nuclear plants in San Onofre shut down, and people were stuck on rides at Sea World and Legoland.
Nice going, anonymous utility worker in Yuma.
But the scale of the outage, the largest in the history of San Diego Gas & Electric, according to Businessweek, may not have been all his fault. The problem, which started as the worker was trying to replace a faulty transmission line, should have only knocked out power to the Yuma area, said officials for Arizona Public Service, one of the utility line’s owners.
Why it spread as far as San Diego is the subject of an investigation. It seems the outage caused a series of other sections of the grid to overload, and the blackout cascaded from one to the next. It’s worrisome, BusinessWeek notes, because it suggests the region’s power grid is more fragile than anyone realized.