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NEWS - Power is back for some across Southwest

Source: CBS News

Updated 11:31 PM ET

SAN DIEGO - Power is slowly coming back online for some people in California, but most of the 2 million who lost electricity across the Southwest will remain in the dark through the night.

Mike Niggli, chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric Co. says they are starting to restore power to the system. Parts of Orange County are back online.

The outage extended from southern parts of Orange County to San Diego to Yuma, Arizona. It also affected cities south of the border across much of the state of northern Baja.

Meanwhile, the AP is reporting that an employee removing a piece of monitoring equipment that was causing problems likely caused the outage.

Dan Froetscher (FRO-shur), a vice president at Arizona Public Service Co., says it wasn't a deliberate act that knocked out power at a substation in North Gila northeast of Yuma, Arizona. He would not say whether it was mistake or how much experience the employee had.

Power officials say the outage should have been limited to the Yuma area. They were investigating why it wasn't contained. Froetscher says they're not absolutely certain the outages are related.

Niggli urged people to be patient and asked those who have power to use only the most necessary appliances and turn off their air conditioners to prevent another shutdown.

Earlier, the power outage knocked out electricity to more than 2 million people in California, Arizona and Mexico on Thursday, taking two nuclear reactors offline, leaving people sweltering in the late-summer heat and disrupting flights at the San Diego airport.

San Diego bore the brunt of the blackout and most of the nation's eighth-largest city was darkened. All outgoing flights from San Diego's Lindbergh Field were grounded and police stations were using generators to accept emergency calls across the area.

The trolley system that shuttles thousands of commuters every day was shut down and freeways were clogged at rush hour. Police directed traffic at intersections where signals stopped working.

The outage extended from southern parts of Orange County to San Diego to Yuma, Arizona. It also is affecting cities south of the border across much of the state of northern Baja.

"It feels like you're in an oven and you can't escape," said Rosa Maria Gonzales, a spokeswoman with the Imperial Irrigation District in California's sizzling eastern desert. She said it was about 115 degrees when the power went out for about 150,000 of its customers.

In San Diego, Blake Albert Jordan, 20, saw a trolley come to a screeching halt as he neared the platform. Dozens of passengers emptied onto the tracks when the doors opened.

Jordan said he called about 20 friends and family to pick him up in San Diego's Mission Valley, where he was visiting a friend, to his home in suburban Lemon Grove. None offered to venture on the roads.

FBI officials ruled out terrorism while power plant authorities struggled to find the cause of the outage that started shortly before 4 p.m. PDT.

A transmitter line between Arizona and California was severed, said Niggli, causing the outage. The extreme heat in some areas also may have caused some problems with the lines.

"Essentially we have two connections from the rest of the world: One of from the north and one is to the east. Both connections are severed," Niggli said.

Power officials don't know what severed the line.

Niggli said he suspects the system was "overwhelmed by too many outages in too many places."

Niggli said relief was on its way, slowly. He said his 1.4 million customers may be without power until Friday.

The San Onofre nuclear power plant went offline at 3:38 p.m. as they are programmed to do when there is a disturbance in the power grid, said Charles Coleman, a spokesman from Southern California Edison. He said there was no danger to the public or to workers there.

The outage came more than eight years after a more severe black out in 2003 darkened a large swath of the Northeast and Midwest. More than 50 million people were affected in that outage.

In Arizona, about half of the city and about half of Yuma County had power Thursday evening after losing it earlier. Yuma County has about 200,000 residents and a little under half live in the city of Yuma.

"It's 113 degrees right now outside and 75 in my office," said Yuma city spokesman Greg Hyland, who was sitting in the dark, answering calls.

Five hundred to 2,000 SoCal Edison customers in southern Orange County and Riverside County are currently without power and there is no estimate for when power will be restored, Coleman said.

Capt. Mike Stone of the Orange County Fire Authority said several people were trapped and rescued at the tony Ritz Carlton hotel in south Orange County, Stone said.

In southern Orange County, the sheriff's department dispatched deputies to busy intersections because traffic lights were out, said John McDonald, a sheriff's spokesman. Outages were confirmed in San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano and Laguna Hills, he said.

Traffic was backed up in some areas, and the Orange County Register reported that fire crews were dealing with numerous calls of people being trapped in elevators.

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