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Monday November 18th, 2019 5:01AM

The Latest: California hardware store helps people in dark

By The Associated Press
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Latest on power outages in California (all times local):

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12:25 p.m.

At Friedman's Home Improvement store in Sonoma, California, employees with flashlights and head lamps took customers into the darkened store to buy batteries, power cords, flashlights and other items needed to get them through a widespread power blackout to help prevent wildfires.

Contractor Rick Lachmiller came to Friedman's early Wednesday to buy extension cords for his generator after his home lost power around 1 a.m.

He said he was upset and feels PG&E jumped the gun on the outage, since it was not even windy Wednesday morning, He also said the utility did not provide enough warning.

PG&E spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan said that because of the way the electric grid is laid out, some customers may be affected by the outage even though they're not experiencing extreme weather conditions in their location.

Store co-owner Barry Friedman said many of his employees had childcare issues since most schools were closed Wednesday.

California's largest utility says as many as 2 million people will remain without power at least through Thursday.

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11:40 a.m.

Retirees John and Greta Maltbie say they prepared for a widespread power blackout intended to prevent wildfires in California by buying bottled water, getting cash and filling their car with gas.

But the couple in suburban Sacramento forgot to charge their cellphones and were unable to get information on the Pacific Gas and Electric website, which was down after being overloaded with visitors.

The Maltbies were among three people at an air-conditioned tent set up by PG&E in the parking lot of a church. They were charging their phones Wednesday and trying to get more information on the outage.

The utility says it has set up at least one community center in every county affected by its outages to provide information, water and power for people who need to charge medical or other devices.

California's largest utility says as many as 2 million people will remain without power at least through Thursday as a precaution to protect against wildfires.

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11:10 a.m.

California's largest utility says as many as 2 million people will remain without power at least through Thursday as a precaution to protect against wildfires.

Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman Mark Mesesan said Wednesday it may take days to restore power because power lines and equipment must be checked before being re-energized.

PG&E cut out power to about half a million customers early Wednesday and says it plans to shut off electricity at noon to another 234,000, many of them in the San Francisco Bay Area. Another 43,000 customers could lose power later in the day.

Mesesan says the outages are a safety measure.

One utility customer represents between two and three people.

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9:55 a.m.

Wildfire-prevention power shutoffs affecting thousands of people in northern and central California could spread to other parts of the state where gusty and dry conditions are expected.

Pacific Gas and Electric shut off power to more than half a million customers Wednesday in Northern California in the biggest planned shut off in the state's history.

Southern California Edison is considering power shutoffs to nearly 174,000 customers in nine counties and San Diego Gas & Electric says it has notified about 30,000 customers in backcountry areas.

Red Flag warnings for critical fire weather are expected to go into effect Thursday because of forecasts calling for Southern California's notoriously gusty Santa Ana winds.

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9:05 a.m.

Residents in Sonoma in California's wine country are swarming to the few businesses opened in the town's square amid a power outage expected to last for days — a bakery with lines out the door and a bar lit with lanterns.

Pacific Gas and shut off power to more than half a million customers in Northern California in the biggest planned shut off in the state's history. The utility said Wednesday it is trying to prevent its equipment from starting wildfires during hot, windy weather.

At the Basque Boulangerie Cafe, workers used battery-powered lights and kept track of cash-only sales by listing them on a sheet of paper. John Vitale says he was happy to find out the cafe had opened after employees prepared the outage by baking bread and pastries.

Vitale tells KTVU-TV he drove around Sonoma looking for a place to get breakfast and feels fortunate to have found coffee and pastries.

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7:30 a.m.

The California Transportation Department says two tunnels in the San Francisco Bay Area that depend on electricity to function will remain open during a power outage affecting a large swath of Northern California.

Caltrans crews worked through the night to install generators at the Caldecott Tunnel linking the East Bay to San Francisco and the Tom Lantos Tunnel on State Route 1 in Pacifica.

The agency says the generators should be working by midday Wednesday when Pacific Gas and Electric is expected to shut off power in the Bay Area.

The utility began cutting out power to hundreds of thousands of people just after midnight Wednesday to prevent what the utility called an unprecedented wildfire danger.

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6:30 a.m.

Pacific Gas and Electric has shut off power to more than half a million customers in Northern California in the biggest planned shut off in the state's history.

The utility said Wednesday it will gradually turn off electricity to nearly 800,000 customers to prevent its equipment from starting wildfires during hot, windy weather.

It says a second group of about 234,000 customers will lose power starting at noon.

The utility says it's considering turning off power to another 42,000 customers in areas it serves near Southern California. It says it will determine a time and the specific locations later Wednesday.

___

12:00 a.m.

Millions of people in northern and central California are facing days without power as Pacific Gas & Electric creates the largest preventive blackout in state history.

The utility says it will start to shut down power at midnight Wednesday to customers to reduce the chance of fierce winds knocking trees into power lines or downing equipment and sparking wildfires.

People preparing for the outages emptied shelves of bottled water and batteries, and there were lines at gas pumps.

PG&E planned to shut off power to 800,000 home and businesses in 34 counties through Thursday. But the utility warned it could take up to five days to restore power because the lines must be inspected to make sure they're safe.

To the south, Southern California Edison said more than 106,000 of its customers in parts of eight counties could face power cuts as early as Thursday as Santa Ana winds loomed.

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