One Electrical Worker Blamed for Leaving Millions Without Power in California, Arizona and Mexico

A single worker’s error led to a massive power outage that swept across Arizona, Southern California and Mexico, left millions of people in the dark and brought major West Coast cities to a standstill, according to a local power company.

 

The North Gila-Hassayampa 500 kV transmission line near Yuma, Ariz. was tripped offline when a single APS employee was carrying out a procedure in the North Gila substation, according to Arizona Power Service.

 

Typically, in such an instance, the outage would be isolated to the Yuma area. The investigation is now focusing on the reason that did not occur in this case, APS said Thursday.

 

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. president and CEO Michael Niggli earlier said that 1.4 million affected customers could be without power through the night and into Friday.

 

A multi-stage restoration plan was begun to get power back to everyone, according to the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. Power reportedly was back in some areas, including Orange County, Calif.

 

Two million more people were reported to be without power in Mexico.

 

There was “no indication that this event was caused by terrorism,” Niggli said earlier today, adding that the agency was working with the California Independent System Operator to bring them back online.

The outage, which started at 4 p.m. PST, appeared to stretch west from Yuma to San Diego, as far north as San Clemente, Calif., and as far south as the Baja peninsula in Mexico.

Earlier, authorities said that the outage most likely had to do with the power line that connects Arizona and California. Both major connections that bring power to the region have been disconnected.

Viewers of ABC affiliate KESQ in Palm Springs, Calif., called in to say they heard a massive explosion at a substation in Coachella. Those reports could not be immediately confirmed.

The loss of power led to a shutdown of two reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant. Officials from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency said it appeared to have shut down automatically at 3:38 p.m. because of the change in the power grid — as it is designed to do, kind of like a circuit breaker. Officials are working now to reconnect the reactor so that it can help restore power to some of the many people affected.

Grocery stores across San Diego that have back-up generators are filled with people grabbing non-perishable food, water and ice. Lines are reportedly backed up everywhere.

Most of the gas stations are closed, as people are being advised to use as little gas and water as possible. There are people stranded whose gas has run out, and all landline phones aren’t working.

Some hospitals that usually provide urgent care are closed, while some were under emergency lock down — frustrating and frightening many.

Non-functioning traffic lights have caused delays everywhere, making it difficult for ambulances to get to where they needed to go.

All flights out of San Diego International Airport have been suspended, and the airport is currently running on generators.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co. also sent out a barrage of alerts on its Twitter feed, warning customers without power to “drive safety” on roads where street lights are out and “if you have a personal family emergency plan, please activate it now.”

 

Georgia McDonald’s Toxic Fumes a Deadly Mystery

The mysterious fumes that killed one person and sickened nine others inside a McDonald’s restroom this week may have brought the most unwanted publicity to the city of Pooler, Ga., since Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman set up Union headquarters there before negotiating the peaceful surrender of Savannah in December 1864.

 

Local fire officials remained stumped Friday about what toxic chemical or chemical mixture knocked two women unconscious Wednesday at the fast-food restaurant in their east Georgia city of about 19,000. One of the women, Anne Felton, 80, of Ponte Vedra, Fla., died after going into cardiac arrest. Firefighters administered oxygen to Carol Barry, 56, of Jacksonville, Fla., before she was admitted to a Savannah hospital, Pooler Fire Chief G. Wade Simmons said.

 

“Every one of the 10 people that had some sort of symptoms … had been or were in that restroom,” Simmons said.

 

No one anywhere else in the restaurant was affected.

 

He was hoping that results of an autopsy conducted at Georgia’s state crime lab in Savannah “will lead us in some direction.”

 

Among other confounding aspects of the case, he said, was how quickly the gas disappeared. “It was there, and then it was gone in the next hour to hour and a half we were doing things at the scene,” he said.

 

By the time a Savannah hazardous materials analyzed air samples from the restroom, they found nothing detectable.

That left law enforcement officials and toxicologists to speculate about what the victims might have inhaled, and how it ended up in the women’s room. “We’ve heard everything from terrorist attacks to carbon monoxide to sewer gas to God knows else,” Simmons said.

Much of the speculation centered on the possibility that the women were sickened by a noxious combination of cleaning chemicals. Labels on toilet bowl cleaners, drain openers, window and glass sprays and scouring powders usually caution against using more than one product at a time.

Simmons said that based on employees’ routines at the Pooler McDonald’s, workers would have cleaned the women’s room early in the day, before serving up Egg McMuffins to the morning breakfast crowd. But the initial report of someone choking didn’t get called in until just before noon Wednesday, further deepening the mystery of why people suddenly became ill so much later. None of the products on the cleaning cart had spilled, he said, and the cart wasn’t even near the bathroom when patrons began developing symptoms.

“Cleaning chemicals are common culprits in bathrooms,” said Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicology specialist at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut. “Perhaps the people in the bathroom mixed together bleach and ammonia,” which would produce chloramine gas, an irritant. “It doesn’t usually cause people to die, but if it’s in a high enough concentration and/or the person had underlying cardiopulmonary disease (such as asthma), it could certainly be potentially fatal.”

Dr. Marcel J. Casavant, chief of pharmacology/toxicology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, said he thought the most likely culprit was hydrogen sulfide, or “sewer gas,” which blocks the body’s ability to use oxygen. It’s called a “rapid-knockdown” gas, he said.

“If the concentration is high enough, just a few breaths could be lethal,” he said. “If the restroom has a floor drain connecting to the sewer, and the floor drain has a U-shaped pipe which generally stays full of water, thus keeping the sewer gas out of the restroom, but the water in the U dried up, then gas could freely enter the restroom. ”

 

Kristin Chenoweth: Christian and Gay Rights Supporter

Kristin Chenoweth is a study in contradictions.

 

The diminutive songstress who played a high school dropout on “Glee” and originated the role of Glinda in “Wicked” is just as comfortable talking about her Christian faith as she is her support for gay rights.

 

In a recent interview with The Advocate, she explained how she can hold both dear to her heart.

 

“I read my Bible and I pray and all of that. I really do,” she told the gay-interest publication. “But at the same time, I don’t think being gay is a sin. Period.”

Chenoweth, 43, who grew up in Oklahoma’s Bible belt, cited her grandmother as inspiration.

“My [gay] best friend — I’ve talked about him many times — his name’s Denny. I asked my Grandma Chenoweth, ‘How can it be that he’s going to hell? I just don’t think that correct.’ And she said, ‘Well, Kris, I read the Bible like I eat fish: I take the meat, and it serves me well, but I don’t choke on the bone.’

Asked how she would respond to people who cite their Christian beliefs as the basis for discrimination against gays, she said with a laugh, “I would ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ It sounds so cliché and Pollyannaish, but I have a feeling if he were on the earth today, he wouldn’t be walking around saying, “You’re going to hell” and “You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.” I think he’d be accepting and loving.”

Using her tiny stature as an example, she said, “What would I do if it was a sin to be short? That’s the way God made me, so what could I do? Let’s see, I could wear heels, I could tease my hair, and maybe on a good day I could be 5’1″. But the bottom line is, I’m 4’11″ and that’s the way I was put together. And that’s what I believe about homosexuals.

“And I love, love that this has become a purpose in my life. It’s one that I didn’t ever expect,” she added.

Even when straddling the line has cost her.

When Chenoweth was named a spokeswoman in 2005 for a Women of Faith concert in Oklahoma City, promoters demanded her resignation upon learning about her pro-gay stance through an appearance on “The 700 Club,” which, ironically, upset many of her gay fans. When Chenoweth refused to step down, Women of Faith fired her. Chenoweth told The Advocate it was the saddest moment in her professional life.

And last year, after calling Newsweek writer Ramin Setoodeh’s column about whether gay actors can play straight “horrendously homophobic,” Chenoweth received an online backlash from some disappointed fans.

But she hasn’t let any of it slow her down. With her fourth album, “Some Lessons Learned,” due out Sept. 13 and a new show on the horizon, ABC’s “Good Christian Belles,” Chenoweth plans to keep walking her talk. She’s already discussed with “Belles” creator Robert Harling having her character reflect her own personal struggles.

“There are always people of faith that battle this and think that it’s wrong. I’ve struggled with that. You might see that on the show,” she said. “It makes me happy.”

 

Saturn at Night

I don’t know about you, but amid all the news of terror threats,unemployment, the western power outage and the like, I could stand a little mental health break. If you’d like one too, it helps put our problems in perspective. Here goes.

It’s a wonderful image of the planet Saturn, shot in 2006 by the Cassinispacecraft as it passed through Saturn’s shadow in orbit around the planet. If you want to get into real detail, you can find a very large version (more in a minute on why you’ll want to) by clicking HERE.

(It’s gone viral on the web today. NASA made it its “Astronomy Picture of the Day” on Sept. 4, and it accidentally wound up on other sites as if it were new.)

What’s worth noting about this image? A few things:

–First, Saturn’s not all dark at night.  It’s lit by sunlight reflected from its rings.  The Earth, in a comparable picture, would be black, perhaps with lights from some of the larger cities.  If you could stand on Saturn (it may not be possible; nobody knows what’s beneath those murky layers of ammonia and methane gas), the nights would be something to behold.

–Second, look how bright the rings are in this view, even when completely back-lit.  Sunlight is bouncing among the pieces of ice that make up the rings.

Finally (and this is why you may want to go to the large version), do you see the tiny dotto the left of Saturn, just above the edge of its brightest rings?  That’s us.

 

Analysis: Who Won the Republican Presidential Debate?

The organizers of Wednesday night’s debate did their best to turn the eight person debate into one that was really about two people: Perry and Romney.

 

And, in that match-up, Romney came out the winner.  He was confident and solid throughout the entirety of the debate, a benefit of being a two-time presidential candidate. He stuck to his strong points – economy and jobs – deftly sidestepped his weakness – healthcare – and took advantage of stumbles made by his main opponent Rick Perry.

 

Perry’s first outing on the GOP debate stage was decent, but inconsistent. He was like a boxer who comes out strong for the first two rounds, but then runs out of stamina by the later rounds.

 

His attacks on Romney’s record of job creation in Massachusetts during the first few minutes of the debate were sharp and crisp.

 

But, when it came to defending his own statements on Social Security and climate change later in the debate he floundered.

 

Two candidates who struggled in last month’s debate in Iowa – Jon Huntsman and Herman Cain – were more polished and poised in this one. Still, Huntsman’s message of moderation and his emphasis on electability is going to do little to improve his standing among the GOP base.

 

Michele Bachmann, the surprise “winner” of the first GOP debate in South Carolina earlier this year, was solid but lacked the sizzle of previous debates. Instead of attacking Perry – the guy who is the biggest threat to her candidacy – she stuck to her well-worn talking points.

 

This debate is the first of three over the next two weeks which means these eight candidates will have plenty of opportunities to improve – or falter.

 

Weight Watchers Members Lose Twice as Much Weight as Other Dieters

Weight Watchers’ approach to dieting seems to tighten the belt more than other approaches to weight loss, according to a new study published in the Lancet.

 

The new research, which was funded by Weight Watchers International but conducted by the U.K. Medical Research Council, compared 772 overweight and obese adults in Australia, Germany and the U.K. Participants were randomly assigned to receive either 12 months of standard health care or a 12-month free membership to Weight Watchers.

 

“Our studies didn’t compare different commercial weight-loss programs, but did test the general concept of whether the various schemes available might work better than the current standard care,” Dr. Susan Jebb, lead author of the study, said during a presentation at the International Congress on Obesity. “Regardless of which commercial program people opt for, it’s having a weekly weigh-in and support that seems to work. People are more likely to stick at it.”

 

The study is not the first time the Weight Watchers regimen — which is perhaps most famous for its points system — has outperformed other strategies. In June, Weight Watchers topped the list of commercial diet plans ranked by U.S. News and World Reports.

 

In a May ranking by Consumer Reports, however, the weight-loss plan came in third. And those pounds have a price tag; charges can range up to $40 per month, depending on the plan customers choose.

Still, the system, which typically includes weekly group meetings, weigh-ins, group discussion and behavioral counseling among its components, garners at least some degree of praise from many diet and nutrition experts.

“Everyone is going to lose some weight here because there is a calorie deficit,” said Keith Ayoob, director of the nutrition clinic at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “But it’s how you create it so people can comply to it that really makes a difference. People on Weight Watchers are probably more motivated to focus on long-term positive changes, and there’s lots of peer encouragement.”

“Blending sensible advice about diet and lifestyle with strong behavioral support, Weight Watchers, quite simply, works,” said Dr. David Katz, founder of the Yale Prevention Center. “More attention to weight management in primary care is warranted. This study suggests that more attention can mean better outcomes.”

In the most recent study, participants adhering to the Weight Watchers plan received the full range of services provided by the program, including access to Internet-based discussion boards and systems to monitor food intake and weight change, as well recipes and meal ideas. Those in the standard care group received weight loss advice and guidelines for treatment from their family physicians.

After 12 months, Weight Watchers participants lost an average of 11 pounds. Those who received standard care lost an average of 5 pounds.

Karen Miller-Kovach, Weight Watchers International’s chief scientific officer, said that the study highlightsWeight Watchers benefits when complemented with usual primary care.

“Weight Watchers [patients] were able to be much more engaged and benefited from the intense support the weekly meetings provided and made them feel more accountable for their weight loss efforts,” said Miller-Kovach. “This reinforces the importance of group support for long-term behavioral change and sustainable weight loss.”

Weight Watchers is a nutrition points-driven plan within a group support system that is meant to create healthy eating habits while encouraging exercise.

Katz noted that the better success rate in a group-based program highlights an issue that is often overlooked.

 

Is Reese Witherspoon an Extreme Exerciser?

Avid runner Reese Witherspoon is recovering at home after she was struck by a car while jogging in Santa Monica Wednesday morning.

 

The 35-year-old Oscar-winning actress “suffered minor injuries,” according to The Associated Press, when she was struck running across an unmarked crosswalk around 11 a.m. Wednesday.

 

US Weekly reported that she received a quarter-size gash on her forehead and was transported to a local hospital, where she was treated and released a short time later. She spent the night at her Brentwood home, recovering from the accident.

 

The driver of the car, an 84-year-old woman, was traveling at about 20 mph and was cited for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

 

A witness to the accident  told Us Weekly: “The driver seemed to have not seen her because of a large tree at the intersection. … [Reese] was lucky, because it could have been much more serious.”

 

But will this incident slow down exercise enthusiast Witherspoon?

 

“I hope so,” Us Weekly’s senior online editor Justin Ravitz told ABCNews.com. She should “at least take the day off.”

 

The “Walk the Line” actress reportedly runs about three miles a day,  has been known to take intense spin classes and is a fan of yoga.

“One of her favorite things to do is running with her girlfriends,” Ravitz said. “She can exercise and catch up at the same time.”

Before Witherspoon’s March wedding to CAA agent Jim Toth, she seemed to have upped her exercise routine. Earlier that month,  she was snapped looking exhausted while leaving an exclusive Los Angeles gym, where she presumably took a Physique 57 class. A new Hollywood fad, Physique 57 pairs isometric exercises with orthopedic stretches to tone muscles and improve posture.

The next day, Witherspoon was at it again, this time jogging around her Brentwood neighborhood with a friend.

Wedded bliss has hardly softened Witherspoon.

If anything, she has found a kindred spirit in Toth, 41, who is frequently seen running with her. “She’s in love again. She’s starting a new life and she probably wants to stay sexy for her man,” Ravitz said.

Witherspoon also seems less shy about revealing her supertoned body. Recently, she wore a bikini so skimpy you could see her tattoo. “She’s really been showing off her body more than we’re used to seeing in the past,” Ravitz said.

In a recent interview with Marie Claire, Witherspoon opened up about the emotional weight that has been lifted from her since marrying Toth.

“I feel so much relief. I don’t think I recognized how anxious I was about being a single parent. It was really, really stressful. It’s not easy on anybody,” she said.

Ravitz believes her exercise is “one of ways she stays sane. It’s part of who she is.”