Power outage cripples San Francisco for seven hours

A sign on a restaurant informs customers that the facility is closed due to a power cut in San Francisco
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

April 22, 2017

By Alexandria Sage and Noel Randewich

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A massive power outage threw San Francisco into chaos for most of the work day on Friday, knocking out traffic signals, paralyzing businesses and halting the city’s famed cable cars.

The power outage, which was triggered by a fire in a PG&E Corp. utility substation, disrupted San Francisco’s normally bustling financial district, home to banks and technology companies.

The blackout started just after 9 a.m. (noon ET/1600 GMT) and at one point affected nearly 90,000 customers, according to PG&E. The cause of the fire was a circuit breaker failure at the substation, PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty said.

Office workers unable to access elevators or use their keycards spilled out onto the sidewalks, some wandering the streets in search of an open cafe or sunny spot to enjoy a rare warm San Francisco day.

Others simply went home, with long lines forming for ferries. For many, there was little to do but wait.

“When I got here we had to shut down all the servers, all the work stations were off-line,” said Bard Wood, an information technology worker in the financial district. “I’m sure we’ve lost millions of dollars already. There’s no business down here right now.”

Some cable car operators snoozed after their cars stalled on the street rails.

Traffic was snarled and emergency workers responded to 20 elevator rescues, according to the city’s fire department, but there were no reported deaths or major injuries. But many businesses, from coffee shops to major banks, took a hit.

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. Employees in Goldman Sachs’ financial district office were sent home.

King Lip, chief investment officer at Baker Avenue Asset Management, said his firm was in the middle of a trade when “all our systems went down.” He said employees in another state had to complete the transaction.

Two office buildings and a local branch of First Republic Bank were shut down, a sign on the branch’s doorway apologizing for the unexpected closure.

Fourteen neighborhoods were affected, including the main shopping district near Union Square, where stores turned 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 MIXT, cashiers took credit card payments using old-fashioned paper imprints.

“Old school,” commented patron Ben Fackler. “I haven’t seen that in forever.”


For more than two hours, trains barreled through the Montgomery Street station – one of the busiest stops that services the downtown and financial district – as the outage prevented them from stopping until backup generators came on line, Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesman Jim Allison said.

Power was finally restored to all customers by 6 pm local time, PG&E said.

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

San Francisco International Airport remained operational, and a U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said there was no evidence of terrorism. 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?”

An FBI spokesman said the agency monitored the incident but is not investigating.

Twenty-one San Francisco schools lost power, but remained open nonetheless, according to a Department of Emergency spokesman. At least three hospitals had to rely on backup generators, canceling elective surgeries and redirecting emergency patients to other facilities.

Joanna Gadd, 55, was in the admitting room of the city’s Saint Francis Memorial Hospital waiting for her daughter to undergo surgery when the lights went out.

The diagnostic surgery was canceled. She had forfeited a trip to the United Kingdom, including airfare, to accommodate the operation.

“It is frustrating,” Gadd said. “It’s quite nerve-racking going into surgery. She had been fasting, and fasting for someone with diabetes is definitely no picnic.”

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin, David Ingram, Joe Menn, Robin Respaut, Peter Henderson and Liana Baker in San Francisco, Rodrigo Campos in New York, Tom James in Seattle and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Heather Somerville; Editing by Mary Milliken)

  • waitingwithguns

    “The real question is how could one substation take out, effectively, San Francisco?”

    Another half-asssed reporting job: question asked (a miracle in itself), but not answered.

  • William Glass

    I have just found OAN. I was wondering what to replace FOX with. In regards to the outages, 3 in one day is very suspicious. Remember the attack on the sub station (2015?). These stations are all wide open to sabotage. If a outage can be made on a national level, then that would get everyone’s attention. Maybe the “Crazy Preppers” are not so “Crazy” after all. We are now entering the “Blade Runner” dystopian future as opposed to the “Star Trek” “Where no one has gone before” future. The little kids of today (and thier kids) will have no clue of what real freedom was in what was once a country known as the USA if we set passively by and let our county go down the drain.

  • A.T.

    didn’t N.Y and L.A. also have power outages about the same time — or was that just “fake news”??!!

  • Nick

    SF, LA, NY. All in one day.

    PG&E took a while to admit that the Metcalf substation attack was terrorism. Eventually it will come out.

    There are 35 non-weather related major outages per year. Three in one day, in three of the biggest metropolises?

    Once is chance. Twice coincidence. Three times, enemy action.

    • R A.

      By George I think you’ve got it

      • Nick

        I could be proven wrong. But if so, Friday is a six sigma event.

  • Matt

    Rumored it was caused by a radical tree hugger group
    they saved the earth from some greenhouse gases
    but harmed 12 million+ people whom they really don’t care about



    • R A.

      Her and Killary were on a date there, so between the two of them it suc-ked out the entire power grid.

  • FreedomStorm

    One question. Was Pelosi on life-support at the time?


    Air quality permits are tough to get for back up generators in California I would bet.

  • Gigi1956

    Los Angeles and New York also suffered power outages on Friday. (Drudge had the story.) Coincidence that three major U.S. cities had this happen concurrently? Don’t think so. But are our city and federal officials paying attention? Quote from this story:
    “An FBI spokesman said the agency monitored the incident but is not investigating.”
    As I said before: Don’t think so. Another question I had is how could this happen and none of the major news organizations even mention this event? OAN got part of the story but not all of it. But even FNC didn’t even mention it. This is cause for concern.

    • R A.

      +1000 on your comment

  • M10 Bob

    Kind of symbolic of things which might happen if the locals want to maintain “sanctuary cities” without Federal assistance for improvements in infrastructure repair.
    If a road closes or a bridge collapses, even a one day delay will be felt by millions.

    Long over due for the politicians to be reminded they work for US, not the other way around?

  • RJenIL

    Trump did it.

    • AtomicFury

      This has the Martians written all over it…

      • RJenIL

        Skunk Ape!

    • R A.

      Definitely a plot between Trump and Putin!

  • Scott

    This is just poor planning of electrical network by Liberal Democrats was weak. Cutting cost is very important in Government power network for they control how electricity is set up SF. SF regulations the power company so its just Democrat Government at work. Its like the Hawaii Democrats sold a mass transit system to the people at one cost will lower traffic a lot. But the cost is so far 5 times what it should be per mile. Other country build this type of transportation as much lower cost per mile? Is it corruption for who benefits from this project friends of Democrats. Honesty and Democrats will be judge look at the media cover up of Democrats fake ideas.

    To save money NOW they will not go to down town Honolulu which the said they will which breaks the agreement with the Feds and it will cost Hawaii a billion dollars but it save money for extra cost is far greater. Planning is not good for Democrats.. What Democrats do not tell the people is the cost of running this transportation every year will cost Hawaii money for the rider ship to cost will not cover it. For as much money they spent on this Mass bad ideas of transportation they could of build roads to move people but Democrats like these bad ideas. Just look at the health care Democrats created and said it will reduce cost and you keep your insurance. What happen lies and more lies is there any truthful Democrats in office. People wake up Democrats cannot tell the truth when they think they are doing good to create their Marxist world.


    Leave the tards in the dark. Crying for mommy.

    • R A.

      Maybe they can get AL Gore to come and shine his no-power-needed flashlight?
      (As he flies there in his jet)

  • AtomicFury

    Probably due to Nancy Pelosi requiring the use of an industrial turbo-fan to stretch back the slack in her face.

    • Ken R.

      Why would she need a fan? Doesn’t she generate plenty of wind on her own?

      • AtomicFury

        Good one!

  • No Mas

    where that solar and wind farm “renewable” energy they keep talking about… LOL

    • tedlv

      See my comments below. The cali-flakes protest any form of clean power production out of business.

  • notwar

    Wouldn’t America be better off if they just left San Francisco in the dark?

    • No Mas

      quarantine please… don’t let the libdisease spread further than it already is

    • AtomicFury

      In some ways they are in the dark.

    • Bill Jr

      They Are Already In The Dark, Their Liberals!

  • semper liber

    San Francisco should become the first big city to go 100% solar/windmill. Those liberals exist in a unicorn and pixie dust dream world whereby Mother Earth can be saved with their type of thinking. Let them lead the way.

    • tedlv

      Any attempt to build a solar or wind power plant will be protested out of existence. Let them go without power.

    • Wheel of misfortune


  • tedlv

    Maybe they need more power plants. They shut down their totally safe and viable nuclear plants, and recently killed a large photovoltaic plant near Bakersfield. Let them live in the dark, with no air heating or cooling.

  • Fight4theRight

    They thought that power is made from bashing Trump. I have an old generator I can lend so they can find each others a..holes.

    • semper liber

      I think they don’t need any help in that area. They can find each other at the bath houses, bowling lanes and public restrooms. Their icon Harvey Milk, known pedophile, got on his knees quite often to promote their cause.

  • Clinicaleducator1

    The snowflakes, cupcakes and fruitcakes must have gone crazy. WAIT, THEY already are crazy. OK crazier!!!