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Power outage cripples San Francisco for hours

News 21 Apr 2017

left right A sign on a restaurant informs customers that the facility is closed due to a power cut, in the financial district of San Francisco, California, U.S. April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage 1/22 left right A firefighter works on a fire extinguisher outside a Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) substation after a fire broke out in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 2/22 left right Workers with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) gather outside a substation after a fire in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 3/22 left right People wait outside the Phillip Burton Federal Building & United States Courthouse during a major power outage in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 4/22 left right A worker with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) walks on Eddy Street after a fire broke out at a substation in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 5/22 left right People wait outside the Phillip Burton Federal Building & United States Courthouse during a major power outage in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 6/22 left right A man gestures to workers inside a darkened Urban Outfitters during a major power outage in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 7/22 left right A police officers directs traffic on Market Street during a major power outage in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 8/22 left right Immobile cable cars are parked near the Powell and Market cable car turntable during a major power outage in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 9/22 left right A Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) worker pulls a caution tape near two generators above Montgomery station during a major power outage in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 10/22 left right A cable car operator sits on an immobile cable car during a major power outage in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 11/22 left right Workers open doors at a temporarily closed Gap clothing store during a major power outage in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 12/22 left right Firefighters and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) workers gather outside substation after a fire broke out in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 13/22 left right A closure sign is seen at a bar during a major power outage in the Financial District in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam 14/22 left right A sign on a Starbucks coffee shop informs customers that the facility is closed due to a power cut, in the financial district of San Francisco, California, U.S. April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage 15/22 left right A Walgreens pharmacy door is blocked by a steel gate during a power cut in downtown San Francisco, California, U.S. April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Nigel Manuel 16/22 left right Tourists take pictures of an immobile cable car during a power cut in downtown San Francisco, California, U.S. April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage 17/22 left right Office workers wait for building elevators to resume working during a power cut in downtown San Francisco, California, U.S. April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage 18/22 left right An employee stands outside the closed doors of Macy's department store, during a power cut in San Francisco, California, U.S. April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage 19/22 left right Customers walk through a darkened shopping mall during to a power cut in San Francisco, California, U.S. April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage 20/22 left right Office workers wait for building elevators to resume working during a power cut in downtown San Francisco, California, U.S. April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage 21/22 left right Tourists take pictures of an immobile cable car during a power cut in downtown San Francisco, California, U.S. April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage 22/22 By Alexandria Sage and Noel Randewich | SAN FRANCISCO

SAN FRANCISCO A power outage triggered by a fire in a utility substation blacked out much of San Francisco on Friday, paralyzing the city's technology and finance center, halting its famed cable cars and shuttering major retailers.

The utility PG&E Corp reported a fire and a circuit-breaker failure at a San Francisco substation, with a series of outages hitting the Bay Area city shortly after 9 a.m. (noon ET/1600 GMT) and ultimately cutting power to some 90,000 customers.

Office workers in the city's financial district spilled out onto the sidewalks, wandering the streets in search of an open cafe, or stood waiting in the lobbies of their buildings as elevators came to a stop.

"It's pretty big, seems like half the city has no power," said King Lip, chief investment officer at Baker Avenue Asset Management in San Francisco. "We were in the middle of a trade."

Fourteen neighborhoods were affected, including the main shopping district near Union Square, where stores and coffee shops turns signs to closed and major retailers such as Macy's and Louis Vuitton shut their doors.

In a city proud of its technological prowess, the outage forced residents back to the dark ages. At the salad bar chain MIXT downtown, cashiers took credit card payments using old-fashioned paper imprints, as customers lined up to eat in the dim natural light.

"Old school," commented patron Ben Fackler. "I haven't seen that in forever."

DARKENED BY ONE SUBSTATION

By 3 p.m. electricity had been restored to less than a third of the affected customers and PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty said that it would be several more hours before the rest would be brought back online.

"Workers have entered the substation. They're assessing the damage and starting to make repairs,” Doherty said.

San Francisco International Airport remained operational, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said through a spokesperson that the agency had not received any reports indicating that the outage was related to any security or terrorism incident. The spokesperson requested anonymity, citing department policy.

"This had nothing to do with cyber," said Joe Weiss, an expert on control system cyber security who has testified to Congress about structural weaknesses in grid components.

"The real question is how could one substation take out, effectively, San Francisco? What other failures occurred there that didn’t isolate this?"

Wells Fargo & Co closed 13 bank branches and four office buildings, while the New York Stock Exchange said its ARCA options trading floor in San Francisco was briefly unavailable because of the power outage.

For more than two hours, trains streamed through the Montgomery Street station as the outage prevented them from stopping until backup generators came on line at about 11:30 a.m., Bay Area Rapid Transit said.

At Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in the Nob Hill neighborhood, all non-essential appointments and procedures had been canceled, spokeswoman Blair Holloway said.

Two of four campuses of Sutter Health's California Pacific Medical Center were also impacted by the outage, spokesman Dean Fryer said. Elective surgeries were canceled and emergency patients were directed to other hospitals, Fryer said.

(Additional reporting by Heather Somerville, Jeffrey Dastin, Joe Menn and Noel Randewich in San Francisco, Rodrigo Campos in New York, Tom James in Seattle and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Writing by Sharon Bernstein and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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