SAN JOSE (CBS SF) - In apparent acts of “sabotage” in the South Bay early Tuesday, someone cut fiber optic cables, knocking out some 911 service, and then fired a rifle at a PG&E substation, Santa Clara County’s sheriff said.
The vandal’s objective appears to have been “shutting down the system,” Sheriff Laurie Smith said at a news conference at the substation Tuesday afternoon.
“We don’t have a suspect,” she said. “It seems like the same perpetrator or perpetrators to me.”
Both incidents happened early Tuesday morning in the area of Metcalf Road and Monterey Highway, just southeast of San Jose city limits.
The underground cables, protected by manhole covers, were cut shortly before 1:30 a.m. in two locations along Monterey Highway, Smith said.
Some of the cables, comprised of bundled fiber optic cords, were cut near Monterey Highway and Coyote Ranch Road, AT&T spokesman George Ross said.
He said the cables there are AT&T lines but that some other service providers piggyback off of them.
A number of South Bay customers lost landline and cellphone service, and the damage also initially knocked out some 911 call systems in the area.
A short time after the cables were cut, around 1:45 a.m., the sheriff’s office and San Jose police received reports of gunfire in the area of Monterey Highway and Blanchard Road, sheriff’s spokesman Deputy Kurtis Stenderup said.
Officers and deputies responded but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.
Two hours later, PG&E contacted the sheriff’s office to report a problem at the utility’s nearby substation in the 100 block of Metcalf Road.
PG&E officials told the sheriff’s office that the substation’s security fence had been breached, at least five transformers had been damaged and that hazardous materials had spilled, Stenderup said.
PG&E spokesman JD Guidi said oil had leaked from a transformer bank, but that the leak had been contained.
“We are currently on site assessing the magnitude of the vandalism and the impact,” he said.
He said there was bullet damage to the substation, but that no outages resulted.
Jason King, another PG&E spokesman, said the leaked material was “the cooling oil that cools our electrical equipment there.”
Authorities in charge of the state’s power grid urged South Bay residents and businesses Tuesday to conserve electricity in light of the vandalism.
The California Independent System Operator issued a Flex Alert asking those in Santa Clara County and Silicon Valley to cut down on their electricity use until midnight, including by lowering lighting, turning off thermostats and powering down unnecessary appliances.
California ISO officials said equipment at the substation may need to be taken out of service as crews continue to assess the damage, which will limit transmission capacity.
AT&T repair crews initially had trouble accessing the vandalized cables Tuesday morning because of the emergency response that was still under way at the nearby substation, Ross said.
He said all 911 systems are back up, since those were AT&T’s top priority when it began working to restore service.
However, other landlines and cellphone service remained affected in parts of the South Bay Tuesday afternoon, Ross said. He said normal service should be back by Wednesday morning.
In the meantime, authorities are advising residents who are experiencing emergencies to try calling 911 on their cellphones if their landlines are down. If that doesn’t work, residents should drive to the nearest fire station, Morgan Hill police said.
Ross said that if cellphone users travel outside the area affected by the outage, their phones should work again.
He said he could not provide details on the exact geographical area affected, but said some customers in Gilroy, Morgan Hill and southern San Jose are likely having trouble with their service.
Investigators are working to determine who is responsible for cutting the cables and shooting at the substation, which is located near both a public gun range and the sheriff’s shooting range.
All of the incidents occurred within a half-mile radius of each other, Smith said.
She said that although the timing and geography suggest the attacks are related, it is still possible that they were perpetrated by different people.
“It’s going to be a difficult investigation,” she said.
Smith said, however, that it is clear both acts were intentional.
“So if you want to call that sabotage, that’s what it looks like,” she said.
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