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Surprise Blackout Hits San Francisco

In offices throughout San Francisco Tuesday people struggled in the darkness at least until their batteries or their patience ran out. CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports.

For hundreds of thousands there was no power all day.

An equipment failure at a single electric power station put out the lights in the middle of the morning rush hour.

The problem appeared to be concentrated in the 49-square-mile area of San Francisco, but there were reports of power outages from as far away as San Mateo, about 20 miles to the south.

All of the traffic lights in downtown San Francisco went out. San Francisco police inspector Elegory Ovanessian said every major intersection in the city was monitored by traffic or parking enforcement officers.


isn't only all those machines from the computer age that are frozen in their tracks San Francisco's cable cars were at a dead stop too. A hundred twenty five years ago these were powered by steam but now just like the rest of us they depend on electricity.

While no deaths or serious injuries were reported some worried about the economic cost of a full day out of business.

About 18 flights headed into San Francisco International Airport were diverted to other airports, said airport Operations Superintendent Mike McCarron. As many as 30 to 40 outgoing flights were delayed.

The control tower, runway lights and navigation and security equipment continued to function on backup power.

CBS Station KPIX reported that the problem appeared to have been caused at a San Francisco power station.

The power outage crippled the city's transportation system and left pedestrians dodging cars and stalled public transit. Muni buses and trolley cars were stalled in the streets because they rely on overhead power lines.

The outage knocked out 17 of the 57 Bay Area Rapid Transit trains operating at the time. Those trains were able, with limited power, to get to stations and no trains were stuck in subway tunnels. BART spokesman Mike Healy said those trains and stations were lighted by emergency battery power.

Just before the outage, a power surge was experienced as far north as Napa and across the bay in Hayward, dimming lights, making TVs go fuzzy, and knocking computers off line.

At the Paific Stock Exchange emergency lights were on but with all the computers dead trading stopped and never restarted. Without computers workers throughout the city were left wondering what to do.

A skeleton crew of about 20 traders remained on the floor of the nation's third-largest options market, while most players stepped out to power up on lattes from financial district vendors or a bit of chain-smoking.

Reported By John Blackstone