On Wednesday night, the bomb cyclone knocked out power for more than 10,000 across the East Bay. For many, the outage was brief, but over 1,000 Berkeley residents were forced to live without lights until late Thursday night and for some 222 households in the Berkeley Hills just east of Codornices Park, the power stayed off until Friday afternoon.
Among the impacted residents were ill and disabled elderly people and infant children, who spent a day and a half trying to stay warm, relying on neighbors with gas stoves or generators to serve them hot food.
On Friday afternoon, Kathy Kroll strapped her 9-month-old grandchild to her chest and ventured out to Campus Drive, where PG&E crews were working to repair the poles and wires that had been damaged by the storm.
“Two days without power. We think that’s pretty bad,” Kroll said, giving the infant’s feet a squeeze. When their freezer stopped working, the breast milk defrosted and Kroll started feeding her grandchild cold formula. “I just think that’s so sad, feeding a baby cold formula.”
Kroll’s basement had flooded, but she couldn’t turn on the sump pump to drain it. By noon on Friday, her frustration with the power outage had reached a peak. PG&E had promised to restore power earlier, delaying each time by several hours.
One street up, 82-year-old Mari Vlastos was lying under a blanket in a fleece jacket, trying to stay warm and find relief for the chronic pain in her back.
“This has been a nightmare,” Vlastos said, tearing up. Without internet on her phone or heat in the house, Vlastos was isolated during the storm, relying on the kindness of neighbors to invite her over for dinner or a shower.
She planned to drive her partner’s house in Crockett, just south of Vallejo, later that afternoon, even though she worried the weekend storm would cut the power there, too.
“There could very well be power loss going where I’m going, but I have no choice. I have to get out of this cold,” she said.
Vlastos blamed politicians for their inaction on climate change and PG&E, which she said “has consistently failed to do the repairs necessary to maintain the the grid for our survival and and is so slow in responding to a crisis like this one.”
“Mother nature is pissed, and so are we,” Vlastos said.
Councilmember Susan Wengraf represents much of the Berkeley Hills, where people were most impacted by the power outage. She said residents were emailing her with the challenges and emergencies they were facing continuously throughout Thursday and Friday night.
There was the man whose wife was paralyzed and sleeping on a special air mattress powered by electricity. When the storm knocked the power out, the mattress deflated and she was left lying on wooden slats.
Other residents who were recovering from various surgeries, including spinal and open heart surgery, wrote to Wengraf that they were struggling with the cold. It had dipped into the 40s overnight.
“I wish that we had more control over PG&E, but once again, they’ve proven to us that they are not up to the task of providing us with reliable power,” Wengraf said Friday morning.
For younger residents, especially those with gas stoves, the power outage was less impactful.
A few hours before power was restored on Friday, Sarah Fisher was sweeping her patio wearing two puffy jackets. She said she was looking forward to a warm shower, but all in all, she hadn’t fared so badly.
On Thursday, she gathered around a small, gas-powered fire in her home with her two adult children and their friends to play Mysterium, a spooky board game, by candlelight.
Power was restored to the neighborhood a little before 3 p.m. Friday. The PG&E map shows no more power outages in Berkeley as of late Friday afternoon.