South San Jose family spends 65 hours without power, sleeps with ice packs

Tens of thousands of Bay Area residents spent part of the record-breaking heat wave without power, including dozens of families in South San Jose who were without power for days.  

The Zapata family lives in the Silver Leaf neighborhood of San Jose near Highways 101 and 85 and brought out coolers and lanterns after losing power Friday evening.

Monday, they started jumping up and down when their lights and fans finally came back on after 65 hours without electricity.

Monica Zapata, who has a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, says it was so bad they had to sleep with ice packs.

"It has been so, so, so hot that is has been so difficult to get to sleep at nighttime," said Zapata.

Neighbors say about 20 homes in their neighborhood lost power.

"We tried to sleep in the backyard and of course we had our little thunderstorm on Saturday night which didn't help at all. So it was just sweat and grin and bear it," said neighbor Greg Schmidt.

With a generator, Schmidt is one of the lucky ones.

He says several other neighbors left the neighborhood to find refuge at a hotel.

Neighbors say PG&E crews came out Saturday and temporarily fixed the equipment problem, only to have the power go out 45 minutes later.

Crews were back in the neighborhood Monday and able to restore power shortly before noon.

Several neighbors expressed frustration with what they called PG&E's lack of communication and transparency.

"That's what causes all the frustration. They're not honest with us at all," said Schmidt.

"It took them more than three days to say what was going on," said Zapata.           

During the outage, Zapata's minivan became a makeshift cooling center and charging station.

Monday, her eldest son was able to to join his first grade class for distance learning via her cell phone, thanks to a portable charger a friend loaned to her.

Meanwhile Schmidt's two school-age grandchildren who live with him had to go elsewhere.

"I have no power, I have no internet. So they can't do their schooling from our house. So they're having to stay somewhere else until we get power back," said Schmidt.

PG&E says the weekend heatwave presented two separate issues.

First, rotating outages as directed by Cal ISO that affected 220,000 customers in California each day on Friday and Saturday.

Secondly, the utility says the power went out for 30,000 customers in the Bay Area over the weekend because of the heat taking its toll on equipment, including in San Jose.

"Elevated temperatures in San Jose combined with the unprecedented lighting activity that took place over the weekend caused extensive damage resulting in an abnormally high amount of outages, with much longer durations than we usually experience," said PG&E's Katie Allen in a statement.  Allen added at one point Monday, 13 PG&E repair crews were responding to 200 separate outages in the San Jose area alone affecting more than 8,000 customers.

Allen said PG&E's equipment was unable to cool down in the higher-than-normal overnight temperatures, which put a stress on electrical equipment.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo criticized the utility, asking PG&E to be more transparent with the public about "failures to maintain and replace the aging infrastructure" during what he calls "the worst heatwave in memory."

"They must also be held accountable for their continued failure to live up to their responsibilities. Californians deserve safe, reliable power, and PG&E is not delivering," said Liccardo in a released statement.

A PG&E spokesman apologized to customers for the extended outages and a lack of information, saying the utility is committed to do better.

The company is still asking people to conserve energy and prepare for the possibility of more outages.