22 photos show how an estimated 2 million Californians are coping with mass blackouts to prevent wildfires

Armando Espinoza delivers paper products to a cafe in downtown Sonoma, Calif., where power is turned off, on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.Armando Espinoza delivers paper products to a cafe in downtown Sonoma, Calif., where power is turned off, on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.Noah Berger / AP

  • Millions of Californians are without power after PG&E, California's largest utility company, cut off 750,000 of its customer accounts.
  • It's trying to minimize the possibility of forest fires, after weather forecasts predicted high winds and dry weather for fire prone areas.
  • In response to the planned power cuts, lines formed at gas stations, schools and universities closed, and perishables like ice cream melted.
  • Visit Business Insider's hope page for more stories.

Many Californians are fuming as intentional power cuts leave millions in the dark.

Estimates of more than two million people are, or could soon be, without power. PG&E, California's largest utility company planned to cut off power to 750,000 of its Californian customer accounts (each can cover several family members) in 34 counties. As of Thursday lunchtime, 700,000 customers were without power.

It was "a last resort" to try minimize the possibility of forest fires, after high winds and dry weather were forecast.

Before the preemptive power cuts, lines formed at gas stations and hardware stores, and schools closed. Afterwards, traffic lights went down, gas cookers went on, and millions of people are sitting, waiting it out in the dark.

Here's what it's like.

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According to PG&E, it's lights out for around 750,000 customers across California. The areas affected are San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Oakland, Berkeley, Northern California's wine country, the Central Valley, California's north and central coastlines, and the Sierra Nevada foothills.

According to PG&E, it's lights out for around 750,000 customers across California. The areas affected are San Francisco, Silicon Valley, Oakland, Berkeley, Northern California's wine country, the Central Valley, California's north and central coastlines, and the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Source: Business Insider

PG&E moved preemptively — not wanting history to repeat. In 2018, it was responsible for causing California's most destructive wildfire ever, which killed 85 people, and burned more than 150,000 acres. It was also responsible for forest fires in 2017.

PG&E moved preemptively — not wanting history to repeat. In 2018, it was responsible for causing California's most destructive wildfire ever, which killed 85 people, and burned more than 150,000 acres. It was also responsible for forest fires in 2017.

Source: The Washington Post

The concern was that high winds, known as "Diablos," would knock down power lines, causing wildfires that would spread rapidly, fanned by the wind. PG&E is legally entitled to cut power when the risk is high.

The concern was that high winds, known as "Diablos," would knock down power lines, causing wildfires that would spread rapidly, fanned by the wind. PG&E is legally entitled to cut power when the risk is high.

Source: The Washington Post

California State Sen. Jim Nielsen said the power cuts were unacceptable. "Millions without electricity is what a third-world country looks like, not a state that is the fifth-largest economy in the world," he said.

California State Sen. Jim Nielsen said the power cuts were unacceptable. "Millions without electricity is what a third-world country looks like, not a state that is the fifth-largest economy in the world," he said.

Source: The New York Times

PG&E said it was going to open 30 air-conditioned community centers so people could go to the bathroom, charge their devices, and access bottled water. But that's only during the day.

PG&E said it was going to open 30 air-conditioned community centers so people could go to the bathroom, charge their devices, and access bottled water. But that's only during the day.

Source: Business Insider

The utility company also said it would let customers know about the "when and where" of power cuts. However, the high number of customers directed to its website — between seven and eight times normal traffic — caused the site to crash.

The utility company also said it would let customers know about the "when and where" of power cuts. However, the high number of customers directed to its website — between seven and eight times normal traffic — caused the site to crash.

Sources: San Francisco Chronicle, Business Insider

Still, California residents had been warned of the impending mass power cuts, and they tried to prepare as best they could. Lines formed at gas stations to fill up.

Still, California residents had been warned of the impending mass power cuts, and they tried to prepare as best they could. Lines formed at gas stations to fill up.

Source: The Washington Post

While electric cars had to charge up before the power stopped at charging stations.

While electric cars had to charge up before the power stopped at charging stations.

On Wednesday, the power was switched off for 750,000 customers. Here, a gas station and traffic lights are without power.

On Wednesday, the power was switched off for 750,000 customers. Here, a gas station and traffic lights are without power.

Following the power outage, there were multiple car crashes at intersections without working traffic lights.

Following the power outage, there were multiple car crashes at intersections without working traffic lights.

Source: The New York Times

Schools have had to close, though not everyone realized that right away.

Schools have had to close, though not everyone realized that right away.

After the power was cut, Californians were still shopping at hardware stores to stock up on batteries, flashlights, coolers, or oil lamps, guided by employees wielding flashlights or headlamps.

After the power was cut, Californians were still shopping at hardware stores to stock up on batteries, flashlights, coolers, or oil lamps, guided by employees wielding flashlights or headlamps.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, ABC News

But what profits the hardware stores make will be offset by the losses suffered by businesses across the state. Despite many remaining open, using lanterns or battery powered lights, businesses will lose money.

But what profits the hardware stores make will be offset by the losses suffered by businesses across the state. Despite many remaining open, using lanterns or battery powered lights, businesses will lose money.

Sources: The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle

Michael Wara, Stanford University's director of a climate and energy program, estimated that cutting off 800,000 customers for two days could cause the state to lose $2.5 billion. While it's only been 750,000 customers so far, it could still mean California loses billions. Especially if it lasts for days.

Michael Wara, Stanford University's director of a climate and energy program, estimated that cutting off 800,000 customers for two days could cause the state to lose $2.5 billion. While it's only been 750,000 customers so far, it could still mean California loses billions. Especially if it lasts for days.

Sources: The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle

Household fridges and supermarkets filled with perishables will suffer. There will be casualties — in this case, ice-cream is being thrown out.

Household fridges and supermarkets filled with perishables will suffer. There will be casualties — in this case, ice-cream is being thrown out.

And despite bars suiting dark, moody lighting, no one likes a warm beer.

And despite bars suiting dark, moody lighting, no one likes a warm beer.

For the Californians who can't cook without power, food trucks provide one alternative for meals.

For the Californians who can't cook without power, food trucks provide one alternative for meals.

As Gregory Hansen, who was in Silicon Valley on business, told The New York Times, it's off putting losing modern conveniences. "Then all of a sudden, it's like ‘Well, holy crap, I guess maybe we need a generator, or maybe we should start buying more freeze-dried food,'" he said.

As Gregory Hansen, who was in Silicon Valley on business, told The New York Times, it's off putting losing modern conveniences. "Then all of a sudden, it's like ‘Well, holy crap, I guess maybe we need a generator, or maybe we should start buying more freeze-dried food,'" he said.

Source: The New York Times

Some people were annoyed when high winds hadn't hit by Wednesday night. Rick Lachmiller, a contractor, told ABC News he thought PG&E had jumped the gun.

Some people were annoyed when high winds hadn't hit by Wednesday night. Rick Lachmiller, a contractor, told ABC News he thought PG&E had jumped the gun.

Source: ABC News

But fires have been burning. This one was burning in Moraga, on Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning half a dozen more were burning across the state. National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Anderson also told ABC News gusts up to 45 mph were forecast. "Don't worry, the wind is coming," he said.

But fires have been burning. This one was burning in Moraga, on Wednesday night, and on Thursday morning half a dozen more were burning across the state. National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Anderson also told ABC News gusts up to 45 mph were forecast. "Don't worry, the wind is coming," he said.

Sources: The Washington Post, ABC News, CBS News

Yet many are still unhappy about the situation. In Colusa County, California Highway Patrol is investigating gunshots fired at a PG&E marked truck on Wednesday.

Yet many are still unhappy about the situation. In Colusa County, California Highway Patrol is investigating gunshots fired at a PG&E marked truck on Wednesday.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle

On Thursday, 50,000 people had their power put back on, but for the majority it could be another five days. It can't be switched on until all equipment is repaired, and employees can't begin assessments until the wind has died down. Forecasts have the wind subsiding on Friday. So for now it's dinner by candlelight.

On Thursday, 50,000 people had their power put back on, but for the majority it could be another five days. It can't be switched on until all equipment is repaired, and employees can't begin assessments until the wind has died down. Forecasts have the wind subsiding on Friday. So for now it's dinner by candlelight.

Sources: Business Insider, CNN, USA Today

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