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Blackouts Hit California As Power Crisis Deepens

By James Jelter
Monday March 19 6:18 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California's deepening energy crisis struck the length of the state on Monday for the first time as officials ordered a series of rolling blackouts that doused lights from San Francisco in Northern California to the boutiques of Beverly Hills.

The fresh wave of outages, called on the last day of winter, knocked out power to an estimated a million homes and businesses at a time, raising new concerns about how the state can possibly get through the long, hot summer without economically crippling disruptions.

It was the third time since January that blackouts were ordered and the first time that Southern California was included in the order. Officials warned that the outages would likely last until about 8 p.m. PST (11 p.m. EST, 0400 GMT Tuesday), by far the longest duration seen in the state so far.

The blackout disrupted the lunch hour in fashionable Beverly Hills, where chefs at ``Debbie's on Wilshire'' were forced to read food orders in the dark as credit card machines and electronic cash registers crashed, air conditioning ceased and irritated customers fled, even after the owner offered to serve their patrons on the honor system.

``I don't know why they would pick this area during the lunch hour,'' said angry restaurant owner Wayne Wald, adding that he lost 70 percent of his business due to the blackout.

Next door, the fuming proprietor of Giti International Oriental Rugs complained that the outage ruined his appointment with an out-of-state couple who came to look at an $85,000 carpet. ``They should have been able to look at every color, every style,'' said Solomon Afraim.

``They said they were going to do some other things and come back. I hope they will. ... We left Iran because of this kind of thing.''

In San Francisco the power outages hit businesses in Ghiradelli Square, a popular tourist area near Fisherman's Wharf.

But Bill Miller, owner of Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Cafe, said he was now baking bread by hand. ``We are doing everything manual now, which is the old methods,'' Miller said. ``Luckily I was trained that way in the old days.''


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