- Associated Press - Friday, September 9, 2011

SAN DIEGO — Utility crews brought electricity back to much of California, Arizona and Mexico on Friday, a day after a power outage left millions in the dark, paralyzed freeways and halted flights at San Diego’s airport.

Officials, however, warned that the electrical grid was still too fragile after the outage and asked residents and businesses to go easy on — or even put off using — major appliances, such as air conditioners.

“Conservation will really help reduce the strain,” said Stephanie McCorkle at the California Independent System Operator, which manages the power grid.

A decade after California faced rolling blackouts that shutdown everything from ATMs to traffic signals, Thursday’s outage raised anew questions about the condition of the nation’s electricity grid.

Authorities were focused Friday on trying to figure out how a mistake by a single Arizona Public Service Co. worker making a routine repair in Yuma, Ariz., could cascade across the Southwest.

Traffic on Crown Valley Parkway in Mission Viejo, Calif., is gridlocked Sept. 8, 2011, at rush hour after the massive power outage left most of south Orange County without electricity, shutting down all of the traffic signals. (Associated Press/Los Angeles Times)
Traffic on Crown Valley Parkway in Mission Viejo, Calif., is gridlocked Sept. ... more >

“That work should not have caused this,” said Damon Gross, spokesman for the Phoenix-based utility.

“Why it became so widespread is what we are going to work with the other utilities to investigate because the system should have isolated itself,” he said. “It’s designed to protect itself.”

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

Electricity came back in San Diego early Friday, signaling that the blackout was essentially over because most people affected were in the nation’s eighth-largest city.

Many spent the night struggling to fall asleep in the high temperatures.

Dan Williams lives in the hot desert of eastern California and usually looks forward to his business trips to San Diego. Not this time, he said, describing his stay at a motel like a camping trip.

“It was hot, there was no air. It was just miserable,” said Williams, who slept with the door open.

Several construction workers at a clinic in San Diego stumbled back to work shortly before dawn.

Ed Harris grabbed a beer with his son and watched the traffic congestion from the patio of his San Diego home until he couldn’t fend off sleep any longer and had to go back into his roasting residence.

“When I got up, my body left a big bed mark in a sweat ring,” he said.

Story Continues →