Powerless to Keep Their Cool

Times Staff Writers

The power went out on Baltimore Street in Highland Park on Saturday afternoon, prompting some residents to flee the neighborhood over the weekend for the air-conditioned comfort of a hotel. But some stayed behind.

They feasted on meals created to stay one step ahead of the expiration date. Liliana Rodriguez saw that her carton of eggs was getting ripe and decided to scramble them up for lunch. She had to throw away about $100 worth of milk, cheese and other groceries.

Some survived with small generators. Perla Sandoval's was enough to run a single fan and light for five hours. She and the entire family of eight slept in the living room -- with the light on so her children wouldn't get scared.

Around midnight, she let the youngsters play in the tiny inflatable pool in the frontyard. The outage also brought out neighbors, who waved to each other and shared extension cords.

Similar scenes played out in neighborhoods across Southern California as thousands of residents were forced to endure life without electricity for hours, if not days, during one of the most blistering heat waves ever to hit the region.

Most rolled with the punches as they contended with rolling blackouts, while others expressed outrage that no one had warned them about possible disruptions in service.

"I've heard about 17 times a recording about how I can get free trees," said Chris Ford, a West Los Angeles resident who was on hold with the L.A. Department of Water and Power for more than two hours Sunday after his neighborhood experienced a partial power outage. "But I want to hear how I can get electricity. The city's in a state of collapse."

Back in Highland Park, Sandoval was sitting on the front steps of her house Monday afternoon, doing her best to stay cool. Her three young children were also outside, including Oscar, 2, who was running around naked.

Perla's mother, Gloria Sandoval, sat in a lawn chair under an avocado tree.

"The ones who are really suffering are the kids," she said. "They're crying because of the heat. All they can do is get in the pool."

Dozens of Highland Park residents were still without power when David Ybarra, an electrician with the DWP, made his rounds. Suddenly, about 1:45 p.m., a loud boom echoed through the neighborhood.

"There goes the transformer," said a utility worker who was working on a light pole when the transformer exploded.

By late Monday afternoon, power had been restored to 60 homes in the Highland Park area, Ybarra said.

In Ventura County's Simi Valley, Donald Wollard said he had returned home Saturday afternoon from fishing on Lake Casitas and was just sitting down to watch the news with a beer when the power went out.

On Sunday, neighbors who had power across the street on Trinway Avenue brought ice water and later invited Wollard and his wife, Norma, over to watch a baseball game. "It was so nice," said Wollard, who had a quintuple heart bypass in December.

Wollard estimated he lost more than $200 of meat, fish and other perishables. His power was restored about 4 p.m. Monday.

Virginia Rudge, who lives in the 2400 block of Picasso Lane in Simi Valley, said she was lucky because she could bunk with a sister in the San Fernando Valley whose home still had power.

"I go home every day to water the plants," Rudge said, adding that there was still no electricity early Monday. "I refuse to open the refrigerator. I'm scared."

Times staff writers Valerie Reitman, Gregory W. Griggs and Juliet Chung contributed to this story.

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