Long Beach underground vault damage is extensive, SoCal Edison says

LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- The damage to the underground vault that exploded in downtown Long Beach Thursday afternoon is extensive and about hundreds of customers are expected to remain without power overnight, Southern California Edison said Friday.

Utility crews inspected more than 300 underground vaults in downtown Long Beach as they tried to restore power to customers still affected by an outage that initially left 30,000 customers in the dark. By 11 p.m., 200 customers remained without power.

According to Steve Conroy with SCE, new lines can't be installed Friday, because crews need to excavate and put in new lines. SCE brought in generators to provide backup power for the 260 customers left in the dark.

The outage area Friday was roughly bounded by Lily Way to the north, Pacific Avenue to the west, Tribune Court to the east and Nardo Way to the south, SCE said.

The underground vaults are all connected. According to officials, there is an automatic shut-off system that becomes activated when the vaults fail. Crews will try to determine if that system worked.

Stella Kalivas was left without power. It's the second time in two weeks she was plunged into darkness and forced to empty her refrigerator.

The latest outage was caused by an underground vault explosion and fire at about 4:15 p.m. Thursday near 10th Street and Pine Avenue, according to SCE.

SCE does not know what caused the failures two weeks ago or the failure on Thursday. They also do not know if the two are connected.

"We know that it was part of the same network that serves Long Beach, which is an underground system that is a very complex system similar to what you would see in New York or Chicago," Conroy said.

Utility officials are also trying to ensure residents that Long Beach is safe.

"We believe it is safe to walk around. Vaults do not fail. When they do fail, obviously, that's a concern. We're very, very fortunate and happy there were no injuries as a result of this vault failure," Conroy said.

SCE said that all vaults are routinely and continuously inspected but could not provide specifics on the frequency of the inspections or the results. Officials also said there were inspections conducted after the first vault failure two weeks ago, and crews gave the all-clear to turn the lights back on at that time.

Many residents said that no matter what utility crews say, they don't feel safe in Long Beach, especially after the latest explosion.
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