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San Diego Students Return To Class Following Blackout

San Diego Unified School District students will go back to school today for the first time since last week's far-flung power outage, which left about 5 million people without electricity.

Students poured out of district schools about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, when the lights went out in nearly all of San Diego's buildings during a historic blackout that stretched from Mexico to south Orange County and affected parts of Riverside and Imperial counties, Arizona and Baja California. Power was fully restored about 3:30 a.m. Friday.

School district operations staff began checking schools Friday and found no significant issues caused by the blackout, said Bernie Rhinerson, the district's chief of staff.

"I want to commend our staff, parents and students for getting through this very trying situation,'' Superintendent Bill Kowba said. "I know everybody looks forward to a great school day'' today.

San Diego Gas and Electric officials said the outage began as an operator error on a high-voltage power line in Arizona's North Gila-region. The outage shut down two reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant, but the facility did not fully lose power or experience any safety issues.

Two of the city's sewer pump stations shut down as a result of the outage, spilling about 1.9 million gallons of sewage into the Penasquitos Lagoon and about 125,000 gallons into the Sweetwater Channel. Warning signs were posted in both areas to advise people to stay out of the water until the area had two days of clear water.

The National University System Institute for Policy Research estimated the economic impact of the outage to be between $97 million and $118 million.

Several agencies are now analyzing the power failure to determine why no failsafes kicked in after the operator error occurred. They include SDG&E, the California Independent System Operator, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the North American Electric Reliability Corp. and the Western Electricity Coordinating Council.

"Every possible contingency is planned for. Unless there's a catastrophic event like a tsunami or an earthquake, we should have been prepared,'' utility consultant Robert McCullough of Portland, Ore., told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

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