East Bay News

Minor injuries in explosion, power outage at UC Berkeley

Tuesday, October 01, 2013
Power slowly returns after explosion at Cal Smoke plumes following UC Berkeley explosion

There was a state of emergency at U.C. Berkeley Monday evening and the campus had to be evacuated after an electrical vault exploded, injuring a number of people. The explosion comes after power went out for much of the Cal campus earlier on Monday night and copper thieves may be to blame.

As of 11 p.m. power started to slowly return to the UC campus, but many parts were still blocked off to all non-essential personnel. University officials are investigating the explosion and right now they believe it is related to copper theft.

About 4:30 p.m. Monday there was a power outage on campus and two hours later, while maintenance workers were restoring the power to the campus, there was an explosion. That explosion caused a massive power outage across campus and witnesses describe seeing flames about two stories high and about as wide as a two-lane street. There was a subsequent fire in an underground steam tunnel, which was put out around 8:15 p.m.

There were minor injuries. One person required medical attention and was transported to an area hospital, while at least four other people experienced minor burns, but declined to see a doctor. It is not immediately clear if those who refused medical attention are affiliated with the campus.

Just before 9 p.m. emergency crews officials started returning power to different parts of campus.

"So far things are proceeding. We did have one breaker blow earlier about half an hour ago, 45 minutes ago, but not an explosion, nobody was hurt, no manhole covers launched off, so we'll just have to see," said UC Berkeley campus spokesman Dan Mogulof.

The power outage also caused about 20 people to be trapped in elevators and all of them were freed, just before 9 p.m.

Officials used a slow, methodical approach to restore power to the campus so they could keep a close eye on the campus power grid. They are calling this an act of vandalism. Officials don't think those stealing the copper wire were affiliated with the university and that copper was not stolen from the campus. It was from a remote and secure location and they will be using different investigative tools to figure out who is responsible for that theft.

Classes may not be held tomorrow. Campus officials will make that call at 5 or 6 a.m. Tuesday. They will be working throughout the night to try to restore full power. University officials will notify all students by text, cellphone, or email.

This situation created a lot of panic across campus because so many students are dependent on their electronic devices and computers. To add to the pressure, many of them were studying for their midterm exams this week.

UC Berkeley police had to turn students away from campus all night.

Some students say they began receiving the evacuation text message about eight minutes after the explosion. However, other students say they didn't sign up for it or they just didn't check their phones. For many it is the night before midterm exams.

"Today's the last class before midterm and the class was canceled because of this blackout," said William Taifan, a Cal student.

"I can't study anymore. I don't have a charge in my laptop, my phone's out. It's basically crazy," said Suneesh Kaul, a Cal student.

Before the explosion just before 7 p.m., most everyone had already experienced the campus wide outage around 4:30. But some students say they began experiencing partial outages as early as 11:30 a.m. at Grover Hall.

"Everyone in our class basically whipped out their cellphones and lit the board and we continued our lecture so we didn't actually know what was going on at the time," said Brian Shing, a Cal student.

Tonight at the International House dormitory, students had a candlelight dinner.

"Thankfully, the generators are still working. We're able to preserve our thousands of pounds of food in our working area where we keep all of our food," said Hans Giesecke, the International House director.

Tune into ABC7 News from 4:30 a.m. - 7 a.m. or follow us at @abc7newsBayArea for the latest updates on this story.

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UC, uc berkeley, berkeley, power outage, fire, evacuation, explosion, east bay news
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