A massive predawn power failure Thursday that snuffed out lights across San Francisco, snarling traffic and wreaking havoc on the city's morning routine, might have been the work of saboteurs, said a spokesman for Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
The spokesman, Bill Roake, said the utility called in the FBI and San Francisco police Thursday afternoon to determine why three banks of transformers at a key substation lost power at 6:15 a.m., cutting electricity to 120,000 customers and leaving a third of the city dark.
"They are treating the substation as a crime scene, and we believe there is a strong possibility of tampering," Roake said.
The blackout plunged much of San Francisco into darkness Thursday morning, stopping elevators and alarm clocks, knocking out traffic signals and leaving commuters shouting and honking their horns in frustration.
The failed bank of transformers knocked out power to customers in a five-mile stretch from the Marina District to the Sunset District, PG&E said. Most electricity was restored by 7:45 a.m., and the rest went back on two hours later.
No traffic accidents were reported, but the blackout added to commuter woes in the nation's third-most-congested city.
Police were sent to major intersections, but in many areas drivers and passers-by stood in the street, guiding frustrated motorists.
"It's extremely scary," said cab driver Wandara Brown. "It's already bad enough here in San Francisco with people running red lights."
Elsewhere, entire neighborhoods lacked public transit because much of the city's bus system runs on electrical wires. Bay Area Rapid Transit trains kept running, but two stations went dark and briefly closed.
Throughout the city, people were late for work because their alarm clocks didn't go off.
Downtown, drivers couldn't get into many parking lots because electrical ticket gates remained shut. Others who did get in scrambled for flashlights to navigate through the darkness underground.
The city's major hospitals were not affected, while other medical centers went to emergency power and reported no problems.
The biggest inconvenience for many people in a city addicted to caffeine was the lack of coffee. At least one Starbucks closed its doors, but customers knocked on the window, anyway, pleading for cups of java.
At those coffee shops that remained open, lines snaked down the sidewalk with yawning people whose home coffee makers weren't working.
"It's amazing how many people can't function without their coffee," Starbucks employee Bradford Hickman said.