Freeway congestion that was already at its peak as the Easter holiday drew to a close turned into a nightmare Sunday evening as electrical power cables, downed when a pickup truck spun off a freeway exit, fell across all lanes of the San Diego Freeway in Westminster, closing the highway in both directions.
The incident also caused several electrical transformers to blow out, leaving about 4,500 homes and businesses without power for several hours in a 4-square-mile area of Westminster and Huntington Beach, including Westminster Mall.
Authorities said they did not expect the freeway to be reopened until after midnight.
“It’s like driving through a tomb out there,” Westminster Fire Battalion Chief Allan White said.
He said traffic was backed up at least 12 miles in both directions on the major interstate, the 405, with drivers waiting for hours to be diverted onto side streets.
In some areas, traffic lights were also darkened, further adding to traffic woes.
“There are thousands of people in line” to get around the incident, White said. “We talked to people who had been standing on the freeway for 2 or 2 1/2 hours.”
He said officers aboard a Huntington Beach police helicopter surveyed the scene from the air and “said they had never seen anything like it on the freeway.”
The power outage also caused sewers, whose lift stations are operated by electrical pumps, to back up in areas of Huntington Beach and Westminster.
The tie-up began at 7:11 p.m., when the driver of a Mazda pickup truck left the freeway at high speed at Westminster Avenue and lost control, officials said. The pickup went through a guy wire, which jerked down the top of a power pole, leaving the T-bar dangling and casting electrical cables carrying 12,000 volts across the freeway from Willow Avenue to about Springdale Street in Westminster.
Authorities said the driver, who was not immediately identified, was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment of unspecified injuries.
Traffic was shut down immediately on all northbound lanes. At first, two southbound lanes were left open, but those eventually were also closed so repairs could be made, forcing traffic onto side streets from both directions of the freeway.
The area affected by the power outage extended from the freeway south to McFadden Avenue between Springdale and Golden West streets.
Times photographer Gary Ambrose contributed to this story.