Groans went up in homes and bars all over South Redondo Thursday night as the power flickered and cut, dimming television screens to black during Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Patrons of Pitcher House, the second-story sports bar in the Whole Foods complex, laughed and made jokes about the outage to kill time, but when they realized the power wasn’t coming back on they stopped laughing.
They looked blankly around, unsure of what to do next. Most took to their iPhones to figure out where there was power, and promptly streamed out the door and into unusually congested traffic on Pacific Coast Highway, Catalina, and the side streets betwixt them.
The cause of the congestion became apparent at Catalina Ave. and Diamond St., where dozens of cop cars and a fire engine clustered in a cordoned-off area.
They were guarding a blown 14,000 volt line, which sent shocks down Catalina Avenue when it failed at 7:21 p.m., blowing a sizeable hole through the concrete bike path on the west side of the street and sending debris flying. The explosion also shut down traffic signals on Catalina, Garnet, Torrance Blvd., and Diamond.
Fire Division Chief Steve Hyink said there were in fact three small explosions; two occurred on the left side of the street near Czeuleger Park, causing momentum that traveled through an underground conduit to a second volt on the east side of Catalina Ave., blowing its lid off.
“We isolated the area within 10 minutes and crews came out and started restoring power to areas they could,” Hyink said.
“…They could not repair the lines, so they put temporary lines into the transformers at the Village and hired security guards to watch over those lines until they can get the volts dug up and equipment installed.”
A Southern California Edison spokesperson confirmed the cause of the explosions was “failed underground equipment along Catalina Avenue and Diamond Street,” and said the outage affected 4,799 of the power company’s customers.
The explosion also caused an emergency generator to kick in at a major sewer pump near the intersection of Diamond and Catalina. City staff has ordered a back-up “just in case there’s an issue there,” Hyink said.
“Also, we think it created a water hazard in the water system from pumps kicking on, and blew out a water line underneath the pier.”
About 50 percent of businesses on the pier lost access to water, but Public Works crews had the water back up and running by early Friday morning.
In the kerfuffle, some basketball enthusiasts headed to the Riviera Village to watch the final quarter of the Spurs-Heat face-off. Some took to their cars to listen to the radio broadcast, and others headed into neighboring cities.
South Redondo resident Lee Craft, who lives “a block from where all hell broke loose,” headed into Hermosa Beach to watch the Heat take the title.
“I heard what sounded like a transformer blowing,” he said. “Then there was a huge explosion if you will, that shook through the neighborhood. People were coming out of their homes to find out what it was.”
Whole Foods management was forced to usher customers out, and did not re-open until an hour before its closing time.
“That was a big power outage,” General Manager Jen Ruth said Friday morning. “We get the customers out quickly and just move them to the registers and they can still make their purchases, but for safety reasons we need to close the store when we don’t have power.”
Power was restored in waves – to some areas at 8:01 p.m., others at 8:48 p.m., and still others at 9:05 p.m. Some were without electricity until 4:15 a.m. The area affected was bounded by Haveneyer Lane to the north, Ronald Avenue to the east, Avenue A to the south and Harbor Dr. to the west.
Hyink said that while all power has been restored temporarily, there is likely to be an interruption “down the road” as Edison switches back to an inbound system.