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After daylong delays, second wave of power outages hit Bay Area

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A second wave of forced power outages began hitting thousands of Bay Area homes and businesses just before 11 p.m. Wednesday, nearly 11 hours after the expected start time that prompted schools and universities to unnecessarily close for the day.

The shut-offs hit parts of Contra Costa, Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties — which joined Napa, Sonoma, Marin and Solano counties, which saw communities in their areas lose power just after 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

In all, about 750,000 customer accounts — affecting about 2 million people in Northern and Central California — will be blacked out by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s latest preemptive move to stop wildfire from being sparked by downed electrical lines during especially windy weather.

The outages could last into next week, affect more than 2 million people and, by some estimates, cost businesses and residents more than $1 billion.

On Wednesday night the company had succeeded in bringing tens of thousands of customers back online. But for many residents and business owners, it was difficult to see beyond aggravation and anger.

In the North Bay, where 141,000 residences and businesses had outages for most of Wednesday, cars collided in intersections where signals were out and residents packed their freezers with ice.

Santa Clara County officials declared a state of emergency, and asked federal and state officials to do the same. The outage could overwhelm county services, said Dave Flamm, deputy director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

“The recognition that we’re potentially going to have over 100,000 individuals without power for a number of days and not knowing the exact duration of that event … we want to ensure that we’re properly postured and placing the right gravity on this event,” Flamm said before blackouts had hit that area.

Utility officials said a “severe wind event” that began across the northern part of the state Wednesday night prompted the drastic move.

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PG&E admitted that some customers, including in Marin County and nearby areas, lost power many hours before the extreme winds were forecast to arrive. Sumeet Singh, a PG&E vice president, told reporters that was because of the “complex nature” of the shutoff and the need “to ensure the continued stability of the grid itself.”

While electric companies typically avoid outages whenever possible, the hard math for PG&E is that the outrage provoked by leaving millions of irate California ratepayers in the dark is preferable to the risk of causing another wildfire like last year’s Camp Fire in Butte County, which killed 85 people and destroyed 14,000 homes. That fire’s victims have filed more than $7 billion in insurance claims against the company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January.

PG&E said just before noon that shut-offs were complete in the 20 northern counties first in line — with about 500,000 customers without power. By 6 p.m., electricity had been restored to about 44,000 of those customers, and PG&E said that another 60,000 to 80,000 customers in the Sierra would be back up and running by the end of the night.

The blackouts could last up to a week for some customers, because even after the weather improves, PG&E must check lines before restoring services, a process expected to take up to five days.

San Francisco Chronicle staff writers J.D. Morris, Michael Cabanatuan, Steve Rubenstein, Shwanika Narayan, Sarah Ravani, Tatiana Sanchez, J.K. Dineen, Kevin Fagan and Alexei Koseff contributed to this story.

Evan Sernoffsky, Jill Tucker and Peter Fimrite are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] Twitter: @EvanSernoffsky, @jilltucker, @pfimrite

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