So, I get this call this afternoon from Alex..."Something's happenning downtown...the lights are out"
Two seconds later..."Ginny, the site's down"
And, an hour later this comes out:
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Major portions of the city lost power for more than an hour around lunchtime Monday after utility workers mistakenly cut several cables, causing a short that sizzled through the system.
Roughly 2 million people were affected by the resultant power surge and outages, which trapped some in elevators and snarled intersections regionwide. All power was restored by 3 p.m., about 2 1/2 hours later.
At the height of the blackout, many office workers seized the chance for an extended lunch on a mild afternoon, even as police and fire sirens echoed in the background.
"I'm just reading the paper and seeing a lot of my colleagues out here, so I guess we all have a good excuse," said Ludwig Welsh as he ate his midday meal outside his downtown insurance office.
There were few reports of injuries. Two men were briefly hospitalized after inhaling toxic fumes at an oil refinery when smoke backed up after the power went out, fire officials said.
Police discounted terrorism almost immediately, though the timing of the outage caused some concern: It came a day after the airing of videotape in which a purported al-Qaida member threatened Los Angeles.
"We were all freaked out, no doubt," said downtown high-rise worker Vicki Brakl.
Though the Police Department ordered all officers to stay on their shifts and surveyed the city by helicopter, law enforcement officials dismissed sabotage even before the utility explained what happened.
Still, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa recognized that the timing "created a heightened sense of concern."
The outage began at about 12:30 p.m. when workers installing an automated alert system cut several wires simultaneously, instead of one at a time, according to Ed Miller of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
That caused the short that led to all the trouble. Utility officials initially said the outage occurred when the cables were incorrectly reconnected.
The outage spread north into the San Fernando Valley and hit neighboring cities, including Burbank and Glendale. But because of the region's patchwork utility system, pockets of power remained, even as adjacent areas served by the city-run Los Angeles Department of Water and Power were dark.
Though some power experts said the system performed correctly given the surge, it was the latest indication of the electrical grid's vulnerability.
Two weeks ago, half a million Southern California Edison and DWP customers lost power for 30 minutes when a transformer shut down automatically because an alarm mistakenly went off.
A blackout in August 2003 that started in Ohio after tree limbs touched a power line cascaded across the East and into Canada, affecting 50 million people. That led to demands for more reliability and preparedness.
Inside one downtown high-rise Monday, Albert Vasquez had to pry his way out of an elevator that shut down after the power failed.
"It was bizarre," he said. "It went completely dark."
Vasquez, 27, a customer service representative, opened the doors with his hands and went outside.
Across the city, traffic was snarled at intersections when stop lights went dark.
Katie Cerio, a stylist for TV commercials, said traffic signals were out in her neighborhood.
"They've got people directing traffic, but it's definitely a bit chaotic," Cerio said as she drove. "But now I just entered West Hollywood and the traffic lights seems to be on."
Gas station pumps stopped working, car washes came to a halt, assembly lines stalled and restaurant machinery quit in the middle of lunch hour.
At Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Burbank, power was out for about 90 minutes.
"All we could serve were salads and cold sandwiches, no hamburgers," manager Frank Rodriguez said.
At the downtown YMCA, staff used flashlights to help usher exercisers from the pool and other areas to locker rooms so they could dress before evacuating.
Before its power was restored, UCLA Medical Center was on backup generators and reported no danger to patients. Childrens Hospital Los Angeles was on backup power and doctors planned to suspend all unneeded operations the rest of the day, a spokesman said.
The city's transit trains ran during the outage, but with major delays.
"I walk faster than that," said commuter Jennifer Crocker, 27.