• Millions of Californians are without power after PG&E, California’s largest utility company, cut off 750,000 of its customer accounts.
  • It’s trying to minimize the possibility of forest fires, after weather forecasts predicted high winds and dry weather for fire prone areas.
  • In response to the planned power cuts, lines formed at gas stations, schools and universities closed, and perishables like ice cream melted.
  • Visit Business Insider’s hope page for more stories.

Many Californians are fuming as intentional power cuts leave millions in the dark.

Estimates of more than two million people are, or could soon be, without power. PG&E, California’s largest utility company planned to cut off power to 750,000 of its Californian customer accounts (each can cover several family members) in 34 counties. As of Thursday lunchtime, 700,000 customers were without power.

It was “a last resort” to try minimize the possibility of forest fires, after high winds and dry weather were forecast.

Before the preemptive power cuts, lines formed at gas stations and hardware stores, and schools closed. Afterwards, traffic lights went down, gas cookers went on, and millions of people are sitting, waiting it out in the dark.

Here’s what it’s like.


According to PG&E, it’s lights out for around 750,000 customers across California. The areas affected are San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Oakland, Berkeley, Northern California’s wine country, the Central Valley, California’s north and central coastlines, and the Sierra Nevada foothills.

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Foto: Shift supervisor James Quinn walks through a darkened CVS Pharmacy as downtown Sonoma, Calif., remains without power on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.sourceNoah Berger / AP

Source: Business Insider


PG&E moved preemptively — not wanting history to repeat. In 2018, it was responsible for causing California’s most destructive wildfire ever, which killed 85 people, and burned more than 150,000 acres. It was also responsible for forest fires in 2017.

Foto: Flames burning near power lines in Montecito, California in 2017.sourceMike Eliason / Santa Barbara Country Fire Department / AP

Source: The Washington Post


The concern was that high winds, known as “Diablos,” would knock down power lines, causing wildfires that would spread rapidly, fanned by the wind. PG&E is legally entitled to cut power when the risk is high.

Foto: A pedestrian walks past a row of power lines in Rosemead, California on October 9, 2019, as southern California braces for the possibility of widespread power outages.sourceFrederick J. Brown / AFP / Getty

Source: The Washington Post


California State Sen. Jim Nielsen said the power cuts were unacceptable. “Millions without electricity is what a third-world country looks like, not a state that is the fifth-largest economy in the world,” he said.

Foto: Jim Nielsen in 2011.sourceMax Whittaker / Reuters

Source: The New York Times


PG&E said it was going to open 30 air-conditioned community centers so people could go to the bathroom, charge their devices, and access bottled water. But that’s only during the day.

Source: Business Insider


The utility company also said it would let customers know about the “when and where” of power cuts. However, the high number of customers directed to its website — between seven and eight times normal traffic — caused the site to crash.

Foto: Close-up of cellphone displaying alert from utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE) warning of an unprecedented Public Safety Power Shutoff.sourceSmith Collection / Gado / Getty

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, Business Insider


Still, California residents had been warned of the impending mass power cuts, and they tried to prepare as best they could. Lines formed at gas stations to fill up.

Foto: Cars line up to get gas at the Costco gas station October 9, 2019 in Vallejo, California.sourceThearon W. Henderson / Getty

Source: The Washington Post


While electric cars had to charge up before the power stopped at charging stations.

Foto: Tesla charging stations are tied off with caution tape to prevent cars from charging on October 10, 2019 in Napa, California.sourceThearon W. Henderson / Getty

On Wednesday, the power was switched off for 750,000 customers. Here, a gas station and traffic lights are without power.

Foto: A gas station marquee and traffic lights remain dark as children cross Highway 12 during a power outage in Boyes Hot Springs, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.sourceNoah Berger / AP

Following the power outage, there were multiple car crashes at intersections without working traffic lights.

Foto: Vehicles backs up on Highway 12 as traffic signals remain dark during a power outage on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019, in Boyes Hot Springs, Calif.sourceNoah Berger / AP

Source: The New York Times


Schools have had to close, though not everyone realized that right away.

Foto: Garfield Elementary School student Terreece Douresseau attempts to enter the front door of the school only to learn the school has been closed.sourceBen Margot / AP

After the power was cut, Californians were still shopping at hardware stores to stock up on batteries, flashlights, coolers, or oil lamps, guided by employees wielding flashlights or headlamps.

Foto: Danny Molles, sales supervisor at Friedman’s Home Improvement, right, uses a flashlight to help a customer look for batteries at the family-owned store in Sonoma, Calif., on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.sourceTerry Chea / AP

Sources: Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, ABC News


But what profits the hardware stores make will be offset by the losses suffered by businesses across the state. Despite many remaining open, using lanterns or battery powered lights, businesses will lose money.

Foto: Lit by battery-powered lights, a worker awaits customers at Basque Boulangerie Cafe as downtown Sonoma, Calif., remains without power on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.sourceNoah Berger / AP

Sources: The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle


Michael Wara, Stanford University’s director of a climate and energy program, estimated that cutting off 800,000 customers for two days could cause the state to lose $2.5 billion. While it’s only been 750,000 customers so far, it could still mean California loses billions. Especially if it lasts for days.

Foto: Moraga Hardware and Lumber employee Arthur Barnes looks over a shelf where Yeti coolers are sold at the store in Moraga, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.sourceJocelyn Gecker / AP

Sources: The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle


Household fridges and supermarkets filled with perishables will suffer. There will be casualties — in this case, ice-cream is being thrown out.

Foto: CVS Pharmacy shift supervisor James Quinn throws out ice cream from darkened freezers as downtown Sonoma, Calif., remains without power on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.sourceNoah Berger / AP

And despite bars suiting dark, moody lighting, no one likes a warm beer.


For the Californians who can’t cook without power, food trucks provide one alternative for meals.

Foto: Local residents pick up meals from El Coyote food truck, one of the few food trucks open in the area, in Sonoma, California, on October 9, 2019.sourceBrittany Hosea-Small / AFP / Getty

As Gregory Hansen, who was in Silicon Valley on business, told The New York Times, it’s off putting losing modern conveniences. “Then all of a sudden, it’s like ‘Well, holy crap, I guess maybe we need a generator, or maybe we should start buying more freeze-dried food,'” he said.

Foto: Cashier Lorna Pine, right, checks out customers.sourceTerry Chea / AP

Source: The New York Times


Some people were annoyed when high winds hadn’t hit by Wednesday night. Rick Lachmiller, a contractor, told ABC News he thought PG&E had jumped the gun.

Foto: A customer peers in a closed Safeway grocery store, which is closed after the power was shut down as part of a statewide blackout in Santa Rosa, California on October, 10, 2019.sourceJosh Edelson / AFP / Getty

Source: ABC News


But fires have been burning. This one was burning in Moraga, on Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning half a dozen more were burning across the state. National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Anderson also told ABC News gusts up to 45 mph were forecast. “Don’t worry, the wind is coming,” he said.

Foto: Firefighters work to contain a wildfire burning off Merrill Dr. in Moraga, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.sourceNoah Berger / AP

Sources: The Washington Post, ABC News, CBS News


Yet many are still unhappy about the situation. In Colusa County, California Highway Patrol is investigating gunshots fired at a PG&E marked truck on Wednesday.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle


On Thursday, 50,000 people had their power put back on, but for the majority it could be another five days. It can’t be switched on until all equipment is repaired, and employees can’t begin assessments until the wind has died down. Forecasts have the wind subsiding on Friday. So for now it’s dinner by candlelight.

Foto: Judy Aquiline, a Sonoma local, sits in the candle-lit restaurant Reel and Brand in Sonoma, California, on October 9, 2019.sourceBrittany Hosea-Small / AFP / Getty

Sources: Business Insider, CNN, USA Today