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Hundreds in Long Beach will be without power until Friday evening

Southern California Edison line crews inspect one of the electrical vaults on 10th Street in Long Beach while other crews around the city inspect about 300 other vaults, looking for overheated equipment or any possible causes for the latest explosion.

Southern California Edison line crews inspect one of the electrical vaults on 10th Street in Long Beach while other crews around the city inspect about 300 other vaults, looking for overheated equipment or any possible causes for the latest explosion.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

An underground fire in an electrical vault has left hundreds of Long Beach residents and businesses without power until Friday evening, the city and Southern California Edison officials said.

For the second time this month, thousands of residents and businesses in downtown Long Beach were enduring an extended outage after an underground fire led to an explosion that sent manhole covers flying into the air and knocked out power for blocks.

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The subterranean bang about 4:45 p.m. Thursday ejected two manhole covers near 10th Street and Solana Court, said city spokeswoman Kerry Gerot. The city estimated that power won’t be fully restored for about 300 customers near 9th Street and Locust Avenue until 6 p.m. Friday.

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The episode generated anger and frustration among Long Beach officials and residents, coming two weeks 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.”

Video of Thursday afternoon’s 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.

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

Edison officials said the outage that started July 15 lasted for days because of Long Beach’s unique electrical design. The city’s grid is powered by a loop of electrical lines with no central beginning and end, said Paul Grigaux, vice president of transmission substations and operations for Edison. The concept, Grigaux said, is that if one line fails, customers shouldn’t notice an interruption because the network will keep power flowing through the other cables.

But the design also means that there’s no simple way to identify where a problem occurs, he said. Crews have to use a trial-and-error method by flipping lines on and off until they find failed or weak lines.

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.

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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.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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