Power restored in Long Beach except for about 400 customers

Power restored in Long Beach except for about 400 customers
The power failure about two weeks ago in Long Beach caused scenes like this one inside a darkened apartment building. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

For the second time this month, thousands of customers in Long Beach lost power after an underground electrical vault ignited and exploded Thursday afternoon, sending manhole covers flying.

At the peak of the outage, 30,000 customers were without power, street lights went dark and Southern California Edison Co. predicted electricity would not return at least until Friday.

But as of 10:30 p.m., all but about 400 homes and businesses had their lights back on. Still, the episode generated anger and frustration among Long Beach officials and residents, especially since it came so soon after a four-day outage paralyzed the city.

"A thousand people at the convention center were evacuated. Hotels are without power. City Hall is closed," Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said Thursday night. "It's very disruptive."

The subterranean bang about 4:45 p.m. sent two manhole covers flying near 10th Street and Solana Court, said city spokeswoman Kerry Gerot. Video of the explosion posted online showed plumes of smoke from the manholes and a flash of golden flames.

"It sounded like a bomb going off," said Lois Soto, 34, who was eating dinner with her two sons as her husband prepared to head to work.

Edison officials initially said about 11,000 customers lost power. But three more power substations were shut down to allow workers to make repairs, cutting off service to nearly three times as many customers, spokesman Robert Villegas said.

"I hope it's not like the last time," Soto said as she stood with her sons, Hector and Alfredo, near 10th Street and Locust Avenue on Thursday night.

Underground vault fires on July 15 knocked out power for Soto and about 5,000 other customers, and it took about four days for electricity to be restored. The restaurant where her husband works was closed, and the loss of three days' wages has crimped the family budget, she said. This month, she barely had enough money to buy groceries.

The inconvenience of the first outage made Rhodia Brooks more prepared: She had flashlights ready Thursday night and, thankfully, she had not done her grocery shopping, she said.

No electricity meant Brooks, 58, had to use her inhalers for a respiratory issue instead of her breathing machine, which plugs into the wall.

"You just gotta deal with it," she said as she sat outside her apartment near Elm Avenue and 4th Street.

It's unclear what led to Thursday's vault fire and blast, which did not cause any injuries but did damage a home near 10th Street. About 20 people reported being stuck in elevators and needing rescue, according to the city Fire Department

Garcia, the mayor, said the encore outage underscored the need for an investigation by the Public Utilities Commission, which he called for after the July 15 incident.

He said that investigation is underway along with another internal investigation by Edison.

The loss of cable, Internet and air conditioning sent many residents outside.

A crowd had gathered near 4th and Elm streets, where Penny Conroe, 54, was making her way to a barbecue. To much relief, she said, the temperature had fallen from the high in the 80s.

Nearby, several people talked and ate hot dogs, while two men with guitars played the blues.

"I think it's going to turn into a street party," Conroe said.

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