PG&E blackouts mean traffic signals out; dozens of crashes reported in North Bay

Sonoma County weathered its first full day of power outage with drivers bearing the brunt of it. 

At least 20 car crashes were racked up during the first 24 hours of the blackout, eight of them involving injuries. 

Santa Rosa police say inattention is likely to blame as people failed to stop and yield at intersections without working signals. 

Five accidents are typical during that same time period, when lights are operating.  

Businesses also suffered, closed for the day, and those with perishable foodstuffs, expecting to sacrifice it. 

"Nobody's got any power, everybody's food is getting wasted," said Michael Swaim, head clerk at Pacific Market in the Town and Country Center. "Everybody is trying to buy ice and there's no ice in this town right now."

At Pacific, the owner arranged for a generator to be towed in and hooked up a week ago as a precaution.

It sits behind the store, emitting a low roar, but has made the market a beacon in a sea of retail darkness. 

"I didn't think we were going to need it, and now this is happening," said Swaim. "PG&E has shut us off, nobody knows when it's going to be back on, and the whole neighborhood is out."  

Customers, unable to cook at home, crowded the deli for takeout dinners.

"We lost two houses in the fire two years ago," said Larry Carlin of Santa Rosa. 

He and other shoppers were commenting on the lack of wind so far in the outage.  

"Not at all, not much at all, so I just don't get it," said Carlin with a laugh. 

Santa Rosa's outage was widespread, but also spotty.

Drivers might find one intersection with signals working normally, but the next one dark. 

Sutter and Memorial, the city's two main hospitals, kept their power, but were wary about discharging patients into rehabilitation facilities.  

"We are starting to see some signs of skilled nursing facilities dealing with the outage," said Dr. Chad Krilich, Chief Medical Officer at Memorial Hospital. 

Santa Rosa's Kaiser Hospital is located in the outage zone, and operating on emergency power, provided by a generator the size of a semi-truck. 
Only urgent procedures are being performed, and some incoming patients are being diverted to other facilities.  

"With the anniversary of the wildfire being here, and then add a planned power outage, certainly there is a heightened sense of anxiety," said Krilich.  
Wednesday evening, fire survivors gathered for the two-year mark in a Coffey Park cul-de-sac. 

More than 100 people socialized, with children playing and food trucks parked nearby. 

"I just think we're really supporting each other," said Michele Rahmn, a leader of the neighborhood group Coffey Strong. 

As residents in various stages of rebuild chatted, the finished homes glowed brightly. 

The neighborhood leveled two years ago was not included in the preemptive shutoff.  

"I think people are really feeling good, despite the power outages and red flag," said Rahmn. "We're just celebrating wherever we are at, whatever place people are at." 

As the North Bay shutdown stretches into a second day, and expands to more of the Bay Area, questions will intensify.

"More money needs to be spent on safety over profits," said Lisa Correia," ordering a deli sandwich for dinner at Pacific. "Long term people are not going to be tolerating this, but for now we'll pull together and make the best of it."

For Correia's household, that meant simple pleasures. 

"Today we were domestic and cleaned the house, did things that didn't require electricity," said Laurel Thomassin. "And tonight I'm going to read, put on my headlamp, and read a book." 

Santa Rosa police have also added extra patrols for the blackout area, an additional 10 to

14 officers per shift to keep an eye on uncontrolled intersections and businesses that may not have working security systems.