RICHMOND (KPIX) — After Saturday night’s light rain, thousands of East Bay residents woke up to a power outage Sunday morning and PG&E scrambled all day to restore electrical service. As it turned out, the outages occurred because of how little rain fell, rather than how much.
By mid-afternoon, Esther Dominguez had been without power in her Richmond home for more than 12 hours but she doubted it was because of the rain.
“It was just sprinkling,” she said. “So, I don’t think that is the reason why the power went off. It has to be something else.”
PG&E says that if it had rained harder, there wouldn’t have been so much trouble. Company spokesperson Deanna Contreras said a lot of dust and dirt has built up on the power lines with no way to wash it off.
“When the first mist or rain comes along after a long dry spell, it turns that mixture into mud and mud conducts electricity,” she said. “This could damage electrical equipment and cause outages.”
It’s called a flash-over and it damaged transformers and insulated equipment all around the East Bay, centered in the Richmond/San Pablo/El Cerrito area. At 8 a.m. Sunday, nearly 29,000 Bay Area customers were without power.
“More than five hours, it’s off.” Said Richmond resident Leo Leiva. “So, we had to wait a long time to get power so I guess all the neighborhoods, they’re not happy with this.”
Street lights were dead and the Richmond Target store was operating with darkened aisles under minimum backup power. And at the Wells Fargo Bank, the ATM machines were dark. But look closely in the neighborhoods and you can see many transformers looking a bit singed.
“I’ve seen PG&E spraying the transformers a couple of days ago with water or something,” said Richmond resident Claude Gibson. “And ever since then the power’s been off everywhere … so, there’s a lot going on on these streets with the power.”
“We got this problem almost every week — the lights come off,” said Juan Bonilla.
And Rod Conway said, “Last weekend it went out 5 o’clock in the morning on Friday and it didn’t come back on until Saturday, 9:15 at night.”
PG&E crews worked all day Sunday and, by 2 p.m., power had been restored to more than two-thirds of affected customers. The company said it had been sending outage alerts via phone and texts, including estimated times of restoration and they encouraged everyone to sign up for them at http://pge.com/outages
By 2 o’clock in the afternoon, Dominguez was still in the dark, doing the only thing she could: “cross my fingers … that mine will come on right away.”