Traffic stopped in all directions before proceeding at the intersection of University Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way because of a power outage in the area affecting thousands of customers in Berkeley. Photo: David Yee
Traffic stopped in all directions before proceeding at the intersection of University Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Way because of a power outage in the area affecting thousands of customers in Berkeley on Tuesday. Photo: David Yee

Update, 3:30 p.m. PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said Friday afternoon that the company has identified the cause of Tuesday’s power outage as an equipment failure during testing at an East Bay substation.

Sarkissian said she learned Friday that the outage actually originated at a substation in El Cerrito, not in Berkeley as had previously been reported by PG&E. She was not able to provide the exact location of the station.

Sarkissian said the testing had been planned, but that additional details about the nature of the equipment failure are still under investigation. She stressed that PG&E is focused on ensuring that its system is safe and reliable, and said she will release additional information when it is available.

Original story, 1:30 p.m. Tuesday’s widespread power outage in Berkeley and nearby cities kept first responders busy with one accident that sent a cyclist to the hospital, five elevator rescues and a handful of other calls, authorities said.

PG&E said 29,000 Berkeley customers were without power, as well as 9,000 customers in surrounding cities. The cause of the outage had not been identified as of Thursday afternoon, a PG&E rep said.

Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb said the Berkeley Fire Department received about 15 calls during the outage, which lasted from 1:45 p.m. Tuesday until about 3 p.m.

“We were immediately aware of the outage, because the lights temporarily went out at the Public Safety Building, then the back up generator activated,” Webb said by email Friday morning.

Among the calls to the dispatch center were five elevator rescues — including one at City Hall, according to a report on Twitter — four fire alarms, two medical calls and an accident involving a vehicle and cyclist at Hearst Avenue and Milvia Street. There were three other calls to the department that Webb said were not related to the outage.

The medical calls involved helping a person in a wheelchair down some stairs, as well as providing aid to an oxygen-dependent patient who was worried about the outage, said Webb.

Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats provided additional information about the traffic accident at Hearst and Milvia, which took place just after 2 p.m. The intersection is usually controlled by a traffic signal, but the signal was not working due to the outage. Many other traffic lights in Berkeley were knocked out as well.

“According to the vehicle code when a signal light is not functioning vehicles are to stop then proceed into the intersection,” she said, similar to the rules at a four-way stop sign.

The vehicle, driven by a 50-year-old Albany man, was traveling east on Hearst when a cyclist, a 46-year-old man from Palo Alto, rode south on Milvia into the intersection without stopping and ran into the side of the vehicle, Coats said.

“It appears the bicycle failed to stop prior to entering the intersection as required,” she said, according to the preliminary report.

The cyclist suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was taken by ambulance to the hospital for treatment.

According to a brief message posted on PG&E’s outage map during the power loss, its cause was listed as “Planned maintenance in the area.” PG&E has not been able to clarify what that might mean, but it left numerous readers wondering.

PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said Thursday by email that the company is still working on the investigation into what caused Tuesday’s outage at an East Bay substation. (The station initially was said to have been in Berkeley, but Sarkissian said Friday that the substation turned out to have been in El Cerrito.)

“The duration of an investigation can vary, but it is essential to learn what happened so we can ensure a safe and reliable system,” she wrote. “We will provide additional details when the investigation is complete.”

This story was updated after publication to reflect new information from PG&E. Read more about Berkeley power outages and traffic accidents in past Berkeleyside coverage. And stay tuned to Berkeleyside’s Facebook and Twitter pages for breaking news updates.

PG&E still mum about cause of Berkeley power outage (01.22.15)
PG&E: 29,000 lost power Tuesday in Berkeley (01.20.15)
Winds may reach 55 mph in Berkeley this week (12.30.14)
Update: PG&E outage in North Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, San Pablo caused by fire (09.18.14)
Brief power outages interrupt downtown Berkeley (07.15.14)
Breaking: Berkeley, Oakland hit by power outage (02.26.14)

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...