Massive power outage hits San Francisco, shuts down businesses, BART station, cable cars, traffic lights

SFGate

A massive power outage in San Francisco caused a blackout Friday morning in several neighborhoods, from the Financial District to the Presidio, forcing the closure of businesses, a BART station, cable car service and a federal courthouse, officials said.

A spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said 88,000 customers lost power and that there had been a fire at a substation at Larkin and Eddy streets. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the fire caused the outage, which swept through the city about 9 a.m., or was ignited as a result of the outage.

At noon, PG&E officials said crews were still working on the problem — and estimated that most customers would have their power restored by 1 p.m. Power was back on for about 10,000 customers at 11:45 a.m.

Just after 11:30 a.m, BART reopened its Montgomery Station by using generators for power, though elevators and escalators weren’t working.

The San Francisco Fire Department was responding to more than 100 calls for service in the Financial District and beyond, including 20 elevators with people stuck inside, but reported no immediate injuries. Everywhere, sirens blared as engines maneuvered along streets jammed with traffic.

Traffic lights were out at scores of intersections, and cars were backing up on downtown streets as drivers grew frustrated and honked at each other.

BART’s Montgomery Station was closed for more than two hours, with trains running through the station without stopping, before the agency reopened it.

All cable cars were down, as were several Muni bus lines that typically run on electricity from overhead wires, including the 30, 45, 22, and 24. Shuttles were put in place to provide service, according to the Municipal Transportation Agency.

Muni trains, however, were still running both underground and above ground, though delays were expected due to the extensive problems with traffic lights. The subway stop at Montgomery Street was closed, with Muni trains — like BART trains — running through without stopping.

Nineteen schools in San Francisco were struck by the outage, including Spring Valley Science School, Sutro Elementary, Civic Center Secondary School, Alamo Elementary, Galileo Academy of Science and Technology and Cobb Elementary.

The district “continues to monitor the situation,” said spokeswoman Gentle Blythe. “School site power outages are currently affecting utilities, including Internet. Student and staff safety is our priority. All schools remain open and are adjusting their instruction as needed. Families will be notified if something changes at their child’s school.”

The Phillip Burton Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Ave. was among the many buildings closed down by the outage.

A PG&E spokesman said the company was trying to determine the cause of the outage. The outage hit at roughly the same time as the substation fire, although spokesman Paul Doherty said it was not yet clear whether the blaze was a cause of the blackout or the result of it. Firefighters reported that the fire was extinguished at 11 a.m.

PG&E staff and San Francisco firefighters responded to the fire. All company employees who work at the site were safe, Doherty said.

“The safety of our customers is our top concern, so we’re working as quickly and as safely as possible to restore power,” he said.

Daisy Prado, a 23-year-old South Bay resident, said she was sitting at her desk on the 14th floor of an office building on the 200 block of Montgomery Street in the Financial District when the power suddenly dropped out. She looked out the window and saw the buildings across the street go dark.

“They told us on an intercom to just stay calm,” Prado said. “People are hanging out the side of their buildings waiting to see what’s going to happen.”

Prado said she left work, looking for a coffee shop with power and Wi-Fi, but hadn’t had any luck.

Aaron Trzesniewski was in a cable car near Sutter and Powell streets when the electricity cut out.

“It’s huge,” Trzesniewski said. “All the retailers are down, all the businesses, Starbucks, everybody.”

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