PG&E in 'all hands of deck' storm emergency mode

High winds are the arch enemy of power lines. Pacific Gas & Electric is backlogged with hundreds of damaged or destroyed pieces of equipment that caused outages for hundreds of thousands of its customers system-wide. Example, a South San Francisco house is red tagged and will take months to repair, plus, 133 neighboring homes have been without power since yesterday.

A 150-foot tall tree fell on a South San Francisco hillside home Tuesday at about 2 p.m., taking out a power pole and line that serves 134 homes; just one of 78 tree falls throughout the system. It took out 611 transformers and 113 power poles. "We are seeing a lot more impact from droughts with dead and diseased trees," said PG&E Bay Area VP Aaron Johnson.

Winds blowing as hard as 60 miles an hour, pushed limbs and whole trees into power lines and electrical equipment, cutting electricity to more than 400,000 customers system-wide; 100,000 in the Bay Area. The Peninsula was the hardest hit area. 

More mutual aid crews are on standby since this is only the beginning. "We've got more wind coming in obviously today, a little less intense than yesterday and obviously in the days to come, we have some rain to follow and some very low elevation snow," said Johnson.

The root ball of the fallen tree, completely dry and yet, the wind was able to blow it over. Imagine: if rains soak the ground and there's the weight of snow on trees, how many more are likely to fall over not just from wind, but literally their own weight?

SEE ALSO: Prepare for more winter storms: Rain and wind in Bay Area forecast

Another tree, immediately behind the one that fell here, now sits precariously perched, waving in the high winds and must come down before a new pole and line can be replaced. "We have seen a lot of the trees come down. So, I would definitely say we're very worried," said neighbor Alisa Song.

In Menlo Park, a Stanford student said he's been without power for over 24 hours. "I hope the power can be fixed as soon as possible," said Liang Wang. He said he lives in a building that is operated by the university on Menlo Avenue. He said he stayed in his apartment because he didn't have any other place to go. He is taking measures to preserve food he has at home, including putting ice in the refrigerator. 

In fact, PG&E is in full recovery mode. The utility's Emergency Operations Center and local PG&E operations emergency centers are activated in impacted regions. They direct crews and materials to optimize restoration efforts. "System-wide, we have over 500 electrical crews alone working, that is every crew in our system," said Johnson.

"What’s really challenging for our crews right now, is that we’re seeing outages that are affecting maybe one or a few customers. At these locations, it’s not just one tree down that broke a power pole, for example, but its multiple poles that are down, multiple trees," said PG&E spokesperson Mayra Tostado. 

Mutual Aid is on stand by if there's a lot of Bay Area snow or if there is a monster storm in the foothills and mountains.

"PG&E is preparing for low-elevation snow that’s expected to arrive tomorrow and Friday. So snow loading on tree species not accustomed to snowfall could result more trees falling and branches breaking and impacting power lines. This could disrupt electric service," Tostado said. 

Shortly after speaking with us, Wang reached out to tell us his power was back on. PG&E said people should continue taking precautions like using flashlights instead of candles and if you don’t have a fireplace, don’t try and light a fire of any kind inside your home. That’s really dangerous.  

KTVU's LaMonica Peters contributed to this story.