updated 9/13/2005 12:48:37 PM ET 2005-09-13T16:48:37

Guest: Gale Harris, Lee Sapaden, Jim Owen, Lou Roupoli 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  I‘m Chris Matthews with HARDBALL in New Orleans.  We are down here to cover the disaster, of course, of the last two weeks.  And, I must say, it‘s quite an expansive disaster when you first come here.  And it hits you in many, many ways.  I will be talking about that later this evening.

Right now, we have got another crisis on our hands, a smaller crisis, but we don‘t know its full extent.  That‘s in Los Angeles.

We are looking at pictures right now of the blackout in Los Angeles.  It has affected downtown Los Angeles.  It has affected the San Fernando Valley just to the north.  And some of the power is coming back on.  We are waiting to see how big a problem this is.

Let‘s go right now to NBC‘s George Straight (ph), who is in Los Angeles—George.

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s actually George Lewis, Chris, but that‘s OK.

(LAUGHTER)

LEWIS:  We are very much luckier than the people in New Orleans, obviously.  This has been an afternoon without power for the city of Los Angeles.  But, thankfully, the lights seem to be coming back on. 

It started at about 12:30 local time, about and hour-and-a-half ago.  Apparently, somebody inadvertently cut a power line in the San Fernando Valley, which is north of downtown Los Angeles.  And that had a domino effect, rippling throughout the power grid in the metro Los Angeles area.  It caused outages in surrounding cities like Burbank and Glendale.  They all went offline.  Burbank is still offline, although the power is gradually coming back on in various parts of Los Angeles. 

The Los Angeles Police Department is on a modified tactical alert right now, which means that officers who were normally scheduled to get off shift about now are staying on duty to try to stabilize the situation.  The Los Angeles Police Department and the mayor‘s office both tell us that there is no sign of foul play connected with this outage, that it appears to have been an accident, but it spread rapidly throughout the local power grid, throughout the system that is owned by the city of Los Angeles and the systems in the surrounding cities, which are either privately owned or observed by those municipalities. 

The 911 switchboards have been jammed with calls from people trapped in elevators and high-rise buildings.  Power outages also affected thousands and thousands of streetlights on the surface streets of Los Angeles, causing a huge midday traffic snarl.  Getting the power back on in time for the evening rush hour is of prime importance to a lot of officials here, who want to avoid having a massive gridlock as people head home from work this afternoon.

It appears that the city and the state and the county governments swung into action rather rapidly on this one.  The fire trucks from the Los Angeles City Fire Department were pulled out of their stations, and the firefighters went on their rounds, actually driving the trucks up and down the streets in their local areas to make sure that people were all right. 

A lot of those fire crews were called to the high-rise buildings to rescue people out of the stranded elevators.  Now the situation seems to be stabilizing.  The power is coming back on gradually throughout parts of Los Angeles.  L.A. International Airport and Burbank Airport were briefly without power, but went to backup generators right away.

And so, air traffic into and out of Los Angeles appears to be

operating normally at this hour, although when people get on the ground,

they may find a bit of a traffic jam, as these gridlock situations clear up

Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re looking at this picture just a few moments ago of the

what looks to be the confusion in downtown Los Angeles, where people without the help of a red light or a green light are unsure whose call it is, who has got first dibs here on these corners.  I don‘t see any lock in the box yet, but it looks like it‘s a possible dangerous situation. 

How much time do we have in Los Angeles before the rush hour gets under way to fix the system? 

LEWIS:  Well, Chris, it‘s now two in the afternoon in Los Angeles.  Rush hour gets under way in earnest about 4:00, although people start heading for home as early as 3:00.  So, they don‘t have a lot of time to get the streetlights turned back on.  And we could see some horrendous traffic situations this afternoon unless all of the power is restored in the next couple of hours. 

MATTHEWS:  What about—what about these people stuck in elevators? 

Have you heard anything on that yet, George Lewis? 

LEWIS:  Well, the people stuck in elevators, they have been obviously calling the 9/11 operators.  Fire crews have been dispatched to some of these buildings. 

The city of Burbank, for instance, is entirely out of power.  And there are a number of high-rise buildings in Burbank where getting people out of elevators is a concern.  The fire crews will have to work those situations building by building.  We don‘t hear any reports of anybody in any kind of life-threatening situations, but, obviously, being trapped in an elevator in the dark is not the most comfortable of situations—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Especially when you don‘t know how long you are going to be there or why. 

Let‘s—hold on, George.  We are going to go right now to battalion chief Lou Roupoli of the California—of the Los Angeles Fire Department. 

Battalion Chief, thank you for joining us. 

BATTALION CHIEF LOU ROUPOLI, LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the situation right now in terms of danger to the people of California, of Los Angeles? 

ROUPOLI:  Well, first of all, Chris, there is no danger. 

We understand that this was a cut of power from a distributing plant in the East Valley area that‘s affected areas all the way down into the Wilmington, San Pedro areas as far south and all the way up through East L.A.  It was more of an artery of power that was out that extended through Hollywood and all the way out to the San Fernando Valley. 

This power, as we speak, is being restored.  Some of the power is coming back on now.  Some of the generators within the high-rise buildings have kicked on and off.  This cut of power caused an unbalancing of power to fluctuate throughout these areas, causing generators to turn on in high-rise buildings that would give secondary power.  So, this is where some of the elevators went on, then back off. 

But most of the elevators would come down to the ground floor and open up, so people could exit. 

MATTHEWS:  What about medical equipment that needs to be on all the time?  Are those hospitals going to—to backup systems? 

ROUPOLI:  Yes.  Most hospitals, fire stations, police stations, are considered essential buildings, where they are built under a different type code, much more stringent, where you have to have all these backup systems, in the event that somebody—a doctor was operating or somebody was on life support.  That would cause electrical power to continue on a regular basis for these functioning facilities. 

In addition, the Los Angeles Fire Department immediately went into what we call an area command, where we dispatch all of our fire department resources out into their districts.  They drive their districts to make sure that there is no problems out there, as well as putting up all of our helicopters up in the air to fly the various areas of the city to make sure that there‘s no problems.

And, at this time, it seems like the power is in the process of being restored, and we‘re looking a lot better than we were initially. 

BLITZER:  We‘re talking to Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli of the L.A.

Fire Department. 

Chief, let me ask you about this situation.  You sound pretty calm.  You sound like you‘ve been through this before.  Is this the kind of thing that‘s not unexpected, that you would have a blackout like this of the power in the L.A. area, including the San Fernando Valley? 

ROUPOLI:  Yes.  This could happen. 

What happens is, as I stated, when a large line that comes into a power distributing plant is interrupted, it causes a power outage throughout different areas, causing an artery of power to affect the different areas of the city. 

So, this is what actually took place.  And DWP has been right on it to get that replaced.  I feel very confident that the L.A. Fire Department, as well as the LAPD, sheriff‘s department, CHP, Department of Transportation, has coordinated their efforts to make sure that everything has been restored within the city of L.A.

MATTHEWS:  How long do you think it will take us to get full power back to L.A.? 

ROUPOLI:  You know, I‘m—you know, I wish I had a magic ball here in front of me.  But I will tell you, I‘m confident, within the next half-hour or, things should by up and running. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about how the sequence of events—you‘re talking about an artery being broken.  How long—how does the domino effect work, so one line cut affects a whole metropolitan area like this?

We‘re looking at these amazing pictures now of Los Angeles, where people are milling around outside.  I mean, obviously, air conditioning and things like that are going to affected. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROUPOLI:  Right. 

What happens, Chris, is when—when a line is cut, it causes generators in different buildings to come on for the secondary system, and then there‘s an interruption of power.  The generators go on.  Then they turn back off when the power has been restored.  So, you have got a little bit of chaotic happening within a building itself, a high-rise building, for instance, with elevators turning on, turning off. 

The building that I‘m in here at City Hall east, we have had that happen a couple times.  We‘re on actually full generator power right now.  And we are operating just fine.  Our dispatch center is operating fine.  In addition, we actually got up and running our secondary dispatch center out in the Studio City area just in case. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you hold on, chief? 

We want to go back just now to George Lewis of our NBC bureau out in Los Angeles.       

George, what‘s happened just now? 

LEWIS:  Well, we are—we‘re told from city that they believe someone inadvertently cut a power line in a power distribution station in the eastern part of the San Fernando Valley, and that this may have tripped the circuit breakers in the surrounding power systems, which normally have to trip as a safety measure to protect against power surges.

So, the fact that this blackout was so widespread was in part because of those safety precautions, that they didn‘t want to burn out equipment that could be fried by power surges.  So, it all tripped offline.  And it obviously takes a while to reset all of those breakers, so that‘s slowly being done now.  The city of Glendale, northeast of Los Angeles, is back online, we are told.  The city of Burbank is not yet back online. 

Here at the NBC studios in Burbank, just anecdotally, the power outage didn‘t stop people from lining up for the taping of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”  But the lights in a lot of the studio complexes in the entertainment industry here in Los Angeles were off.  Now NBC, for instance, is operating on emergency power.  That‘s how we‘re able to broadcast, bringing up the generators around our lot.

And some portions of the city are on emergency power still, but gradually now we‘re being told that the city power is being restored. And we are being reassured by all levels of government here that there was no foul play.  But, obviously, with the release over the weekend of that new al Qaeda tape featuring Adam Gadahn, the American, threatening Los Angeles, that was on everybody‘s mind when the lights first flickered out. 

But the officials have been doing their best to try to reassure people that this was not an act of foul play.  It was an accident in the power distribution center in east San Fernando Valley, that‘s why the lights went out, and they are doing their best to try to get everything restored in time for the afternoon rush hour—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you any idea what is meant by an accident?  Does that mean that a person pulled the wrong switch? 

LEWIS:  We are told that there was a cut in a power line.  We don‘t have any details other than that.  So, it may have been somebody with a piece of heavy equipment that crashed into something.  We don‘t know for sure.  We‘re trying to find that out. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go back—hold on there, George Lewis. 

Let me go back right now to Chief Roupoli, Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli of the Los Angeles Fire Department. 

Let me ask you, sir, about the way the system works.  What back—is there a backup system for all these red lights that control traffic through Los Angeles? 

Chief? 

I think we have lost the chief. 

I think that‘s a great question for George Lewis. 

I guess the system here that‘s been jeopardizing the traffic situation in Los Angeles, and perhaps creating a situation of danger to a very crowded—everybody knows Los Angeles has some of the toughest traffic in the world.  We‘re looking at it begin to develop now here.  

Without the light system, without the traffic light system, is this a danger to Los Angeles? 

LEWIS:  Oh, sure.  We have seen a couple...

MATTHEWS:  George Lewis? 

LEWIS:  Yes.  Yes.  Chris Matthews, can you hear me?  Chris, can you hear me? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I can. 

LEWIS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I can.

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS:  It‘s obvious that we have seen a few fender benders around here in the city streets of Los Angeles.  So, yes, it‘s a major concern with snarled traffic and obviously a public safety concern. 

The problem is that you can‘t put the streetlights in a city this large on all emergency backup power.  There are simply too many streetlights, and they are spread out over such a wide area, 44 miles from the northern city limits of Los Angeles down to the southern city limits of Los Angeles.  So, they operate on the same power system that we all operate on without backup power. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, George.  Hold on there again, George.

Let‘s go to Jim Owen right now.  He‘s also on the phone.  He‘s with the Edison Electric Institute, which represents a lot of these power companies, public utilities. 

Let me go right now to Jim Owen. 

Jim, what does this seem like to you, being experienced in this area? 

JIM OWEN, EDISON ELECTRIC INSTITUTE:  Well, based on what we have heard, Chris, again, it appears from reporting that a couple of workers for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power accidentally severed what would appear to be a relatively major line, transmission or distribution line, which then kind of cascaded throughout parts of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s a good word, cascading.  I was wondering how the domino effect works here, where one—the severing of one artery, to use chief Roupoli‘s term, would create this domino effect which would bring about such a tremendous blackout in the L.A. metropolitan area. 

OWEN:  It‘s not widely understood, but the system is really designed to work that way, Chris.  The system is designed to protect itself and kind of inoculate the particular area, so the outage won‘t spread, like what we had a couple of years ago. 

Basically, what happens, there are a system of sensors and relays.  And when they sense that there is something is awry in the system, they trip off.  So, that would end up creating a larger outage than you would otherwise get right around the immediate area, but it does spread a little bit. 

What happens now is that they have apparently identified the specific cause and the workers will begin to gradually reenergize the system in a manner that‘s safe, so that we can get the power back on out there. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you put this in layman‘s terms?  In terms of someone who has a—that blows a circuit in their home and they have to go downstairs and pull the lever to get it back on again, is that like this? 

OWEN:  Well, it‘s a little bit like that, yes.  And I think that‘s probably a fair analogy.  In other words, if have you a circuit in your house that‘s broken...

MATTHEWS:  Circuit breaker. 

OWEN:  Exactly.  That‘s a reasonable analogy, Chris.  I think that works. 

In other words, it‘s not just that line right there in the next block.  It spreads a little bit.  Again, because of the way the system works, these relays, these things trip off.  They sense the fact that the power is not going from where it‘s being generated to where it‘s being consumed.  If that didn‘t happen, then you would have a situation in which the lines would get overheated.  You might have significant damage to the power lines themselves. 

You might even, in a worst-case scenario, have damage, significant damage, to a power plant.  So, it‘s all part of a very complex system in which the amount of electricity that‘s being generated has to be equal to the amount of power that‘s being consumed at any given moment.  Does that make sense? 

MATTHEWS:  When we look at this enormous city in front of us, Los Angeles, one of the great cities in history, where does the power come from?  What generates the power for Los Angeles that we‘re seeing jeopardized right now? 

OWEN:  Well, a very big portion of the electricity in Southern California comes from natural gas plants.  A lot of it comes from hydroelectric plants that might be in parts of Northern California or even as far away as Washington state.  They have a lot of dams up there.

And California also has a lot of so-called renewable energy, power that is coming from both solar panels, as well as from windmills that they have a lot of out there in Southern California.  So, it‘s a mixture. 

MATTHEWS:  Jim, we‘re looking at one of these little traffic—we call them fender benders—someone did before.  Certainly, we are familiar with this situation.  We‘re looking right now, for the last several minutes, at Los Angeles, downtown Los Angeles, as you can see, where the power has been out now for quite a bit of time now.

And it‘s getting—it‘s coming back online, but, of course, the danger is obvious, a city where traffic is worldwide known, a city where everyone commutes by car.  Public transportation is not a big portion of the way people get around.  They get around by car on freeways or on surface roads.  We‘re watching the action here on surface roads, where you have a lot of red lights and people are relying on getting home now in the next couple of hours in Los Angeles.

And we‘re seeing the danger that is caused by this blackout. 

Of course, I have got to go to Jim Owen on the tricky political question.  Gray Davis, the recent governor of California, owes his dismissal by the people to questions and problems they had with regard to energy.  Does this relate to that, what‘s going on now in L.A.? 

OWEN:  I would tend to think that this is not really related to that, Chris. 

This—again, it‘s premature to try to make any sweeping generalization, political or otherwise.  But it would appear, based on what we have heard and what your own network has reported, that this appears to be a relatively localized cause of an outage, that, again, for reasons that we discussed, obviously spread throughout a densely populated political—excuse me—through a densely populated area. 

The problem that you alluded to earlier, back when Gray Davis was governor, really had to do with a much more complex and broader set of factors, having to do with a lack of generation, in other words, not enough power plants that were in the state back then and inadequate transmission facilities.  Some of those dynamics still apply. 

I mean, there are many people who still feel that there are not enough power plants in California.  And while they are certainly trying to redress some of the issues relative to transmission, to power lines, they still have some way to go there, too.  But I think things are certainly better than they were back then. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Well, Jim, hold on, if you can.

Jim Owen, thank you very much, by the way, for joining us from Edison Electric Institute.  And you represent all of those power companies, those utilities, including Los Angeles.

Let‘s go right now Lee Sapaden.  He‘s with Federal Emergency Management, actually, in the city of Los Angeles. 

Lee, thank you for joining us. 

What danger does this present to the community of California, Los Angeles in particular, and the San Fernando Valley, the fact that the power has gone out here for a while? 

LEE SAPADEN, LOS ANGELES EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY:  I can‘t really answer that.  What I really have is why the power went out and what parts                of L.A. are being affected. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Tell us that.  OK.  Go ahead, sir. 

SAPADEN:  What happened is that the power affecting the city of Los Angeles, Van Nuys, Studio City, Burbank, Glendale, southeast San Fernando Valley.

And according to Department of Water and Power, it was caused at a power substation in West Los Angeles at the corner of Scattergood (ph) and Hayes (ph).  And an employee inadvertently cut a power cable, which caused the power failure. 

MATTHEWS:  Do we know how that happened, sir? 

SAPADEN:  No, we don‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  How the cable was cut?  Was it cut by machinery or by a knife or what?  We don‘t know.

(CROSSTALK)

SAPADEN:  That, I don‘t know.  I‘m just getting the information and I‘m trying to return all the telephone calls of all the different news stations that are trying to find out what when on.  And that‘s all I have.

I mean, eventually, I will have a little bit more information, but, at this time, that‘s all I have. 

MATTHEWS:  Could you run through again what you gave us?  That was great information.  Just run through the communities affected, the areas of Los Angeles that are affected by this outage. 

SAPADEN:  Sure.

The city of Los Angeles, Van Nuys, Studio City, Burbank, Glendale, southeast San Fernando Valley.  

MATTHEWS:  Any estimate about when they will be back online? 

SAPADEN:  No.  I‘m trying to find that out right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you for your efforts so far, sir.  Thank you very much for joining us from Los Angeles County. 

Let me go right now to Chris Jansing, who is joining us right now. 

You were on this story, covering it, before I came on at 5:00 with

HARDBALL. 

We don‘t have Jansing right now. 

Let‘s go to someone on the ground out there in Los Angeles.

NBC‘s Michael Okwu is actually down on the ground in Los Angeles, at one of the street corners. 

Michael, thank you for joining us.

What is the situation on the street level down there now?

MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, I can tell you, things are fairly calm on the streets here. 

I‘m at a major interaction in North Hollywood, about five minutes or so from Burbank, which is of course where we have studios, and your guest just before saying that Burbank was one of the areas that was seriously struck. 

And, as a matter of fact, just driving here, I counted at least six intersections where the lights were not working.  Los Angeles—you know, we‘re not in any kind of a panic.  As a matter of fact, the scenes were very reminiscent of what many of us experienced in New York City when the power went out there, some civilians literally getting in the middle of the street and trying to direct traffic, although, in most of the cases, there were police officers directing traffic and Angelinos, who are fairly aggressive in their driving styles, complying. 

So, never really a sense of strong sense of panic.  And, in fact, as we got to this major intersection in North Hollywood, we started noticing that the lights slowly started coming back up, confirmation of what your earlier guests were saying, that the power seems to be restored and that it‘s coming back in stages in specific areas. 

I‘m standing at this intersection, Chris, looking down on the street.  And they actually had flares on the ground just moments before I got here, an indication that authorities on the scene were trying to take as much control of the situation as possible by giving people as many visual cues as possible, but things very much calming down at this point, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the situation on the freeways? 

OKWU:  Well, you saw some of those live aerial pictures earlier on in the day of people driving very slowly, but the traffic incredibly snarled.

And anyone who has visited Los Angeles or has lived in here certainly can tell you that that is one of the defining features of this massive city, certainly in terms of its landscape, that the traffic is always snarled, that it seems to be always congested.  And this did not make it any better, Chris.  It was sort of an awful scene just by looking at those pictures, but, surprisingly, again, on the actual surface streets of Los Angeles, relative calm. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re walking somewhere, you told us.  Try to identify the spot where you‘re at right now, Michael.  You are between downtown Burbank, where the NBC studios are, and Los Angeles proper?  Is that where you are?

OKWU:  That‘s right. 

I‘m technically in North Hollywood.  And I‘m at a major intersection that is not far at all from Burbank.  And it was, in fact, affected by the lack of power, the intersection at Vine (ph), which is a lot of people know, Vineland (ph) and (INAUDIBLE) Rio (ph) streets. 

And, actually, about four different roadways sort of feed in here, so, this must have been quite a scene when power actually went out.  You can imagine the chaos that might have existed here.  None of us were able to actually eyewitness that.  But, by the time we arrived, the power started coming back up. 

And, in fact, the crews who were here a little bit earlier said that they felt that there was no panic, that there that—one would expect there would be, but very quickly people started using their own sort of caution, driving much more slowly than they normally do, and pretty much obeying the normal street rules. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, what we know now, everybody tuning in right now and watching these aerial pictures from a bit ago, just a few moments ago, over the grand, enormous city of Los Angeles, where we had a power outage and still do, although some of the electricity is coming back on, like in Glendale, we heard.

But it was apparently caused by someone who cut an artery, an electric artery, in a sense, and a worker who did this.  It was an accident.  It was no foul play, according to everyone we have talked to.  But everybody is a little bit spooked, of course, because there was the warning yesterday by the al Qaeda figure that L.A. was one of their recent or current targets. 

But no evidence whatever of any terrorism here.  It‘s one of those things that go wrong.  A worker working with the utilities out there accidentally cut the power.  And it created a kind of a chain reaction.  And it, as someone said earlier today, created a situation not totally unlike a situation in your house, when you blow a circuit, you blow a fuse, and you have to go down to the basement and pull all the levers, like I do, to see which one works and get you back electrified again. 

Right now, Los Angeles, the entire metropolitan area, is in the process of reigniting itself electrically.  But we‘re watching these pictures, which are very fresh, of problems, as you see them, on the surface roads there, getting close to the freeway.  People are facing longer-than-usual tie-ups.  And, of course, everything—everything in—everything in Los Angeles is about getting in that car and getting home on the freeway. 

Let‘s go right now to NBC‘s Bob Windrem. 

Bob, what do you see the significance of this event here? 

BOB WINDREM, NBC INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER:  Well, today, Chris, is obviously the day after Adam Gadahn was on television talking about an al Qaeda threat to Los Angeles. 

But as proven by the events here today, al Qaeda would have a very difficult time figuring out which line to cut and where to go, because very often these are cascading events that have a very simple beginning.

If you may recall, the 2004 New York blackout started with a tree trimming operation along a power cable in Ohio.  And the 1965 New York blackout started with a circuit breaker going down at Niagara Falls.  The key thing here I think to understand when you‘re looking at terrorism is, al Qaeda did not intend to disrupt, does not intend to annoy.  They intend to kill. 

And so, immediately, my feeling was that this could not be terrorism, because this is not the way an al Qaeda attack begins.  It begins with explosions. 

MATTHEWS:  And so, they play for keeps.  They‘re not interested in just being an annoyance to America by disrupting traffic in our most congested city. 

WINDREM:  Yes. 

And the other thing to note is, Chris, I got a—I got a message about 4:44 from inside Homeland Security, saying that, at that point, they knew that it was a—it was a cable being cut somewhere in the Los Angeles area.  So, there was a—there was a pretty good sense of confidence early on that this was not a terrorist attack, that, this was, as previous blackouts had been, related to a cascade of events that began with something very simple and then quite—you know, quite quickly, got out of control. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Bob Windrem, you have been our adviser for so many years now.  And you know your stuff with regard to terrorism.

What does a warning or a threat like we got yesterday mean, then? 

WINDREM:  Well, Adam Gadahn is a—is a member of a media relations unit—quote, unquote—in al Qaeda, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials.

And what they see about—what they see with Gadahn‘s comments yesterday is this, that al Qaeda may have a new attic of having some of their messengers deliver threats in the language and idiom of the country that is targeted.  This is at least the second time in the last two months where there has been such a message.  In August, a former Australian soldier who has taken up with the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan had an Internet-delivered threat.

So, what you have had now in the last two months is two threats delivered in the language of the targeted population.  They don‘t see Gadahn as having risen in Iraq into an operations role.  They just believe that this is essentially a tactic, a communications tactic, to make it look more realistic.

And one thing that was pointed out to me, Chris, is this, is that, if it is delivered in English, it is more likely that broadcast outlets will use more of that threat on camera than they would if it was in Arabic. 

MATTHEWS:  So, here we go, Bob, with yet another form of terrorism, to scare people, even when there‘s not going to be an attack. 

And just to clarify what we are watching here, Bob, as you stay on, we‘re looking at the aerial view, of course, of Los Angeles, a great city, which had a blackout and has continued to have a blackout for the last hour or so now this afternoon, which may end, we hope, before rush hour in Los Angeles, which is, of course, coming up in the next hour or so. 

And we are hoping that this will be resolved.  It has nothing to do with terrorism, we‘re told, by officials, all officials.  It has to do with a mistake that was made.  Someone cut a line.  And in a city that‘s so interdependent in terms of its—in terms of its power, it‘s not hard to imagine how this could boomerang into a major blackout, which it has done, all part of the system of the California power system, which protects the system and, in an odd way, causes blackouts in order not to prevent further damage. 

But we‘re told we are going to be back online here fairly soon, this afternoon, even before the big, well-known, famous L.A. traffic that is coming this afternoon. 

Let me go right back.  We are going to take a break now with MSNBC‘s continuing coverage, continuing after this of what‘s happening in Los Angeles and this bit of a scare we had out there this afternoon. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m back here.  It‘s Chris Matthews, back from HARDBALL.

We‘re here in New Orleans.  Of course, we‘re back covering an unusual story tonight, a scary story for a moment or two this afternoon.  That‘s the blackout in metropolitan Los Angeles.  We‘re looking at an aerial view right now.  We have been talking to the experts.

And what we have discovered is that a workman working in a substation accidentally pulled a switch or cut a line.  It‘s not quite clear.  We will know by perhaps later tonight what happened.  But it set off a chain reaction which blacked out a huge portion of downtown Los Angeles.  There‘s also areas such as the San Fernando Valley, Burbank, places like that, all up and down that enormous metropolitan area.

And it, of course, scared some people, because there had been a warning just yesterday from an al Qaeda figure threatening particularly Los Angeles.  It turns out, based upon all the evidence, that there‘s no connection between that threat, which may well have been, according to Bob Windrem, who has been pretty good on this, our terrorist expert here at NBC, was done for scare tactics reason.  They didn‘t have a plan to hurt Los Angeles. They simply wanted to scare the people of that part of the country and us generally, I think it‘s fair to say.

But what we‘re seeing here now is Los Angeles.  We‘re looking at some of the power facilities that serve the tremendous needs of Southern California. 

And, of course, we have got somebody right—we have got NBC‘s Mike Okwu, who is on the street down there in northern Hollywood right now.  And he‘s going to give us a sense of what we‘re missing here from these aerial views, what it‘s like to be at street level—Mike. 

OKWU:  Well, Chris, I can tell you, it is completely normal at this hour at this moment today. 

That was certainly not the case as recently as about 15 to 20 minutes ago at a major intersection in North Hollywood, just about five minutes or so from our studios in Burbank.  And, again, as I might have mentioned to you earlier in the day, Chris, driving over here, I counted at least five intersections where the lights were not working, and regular civilians, along with, in some cases, uniformed police officers, getting out in the middle of the street and attempting to direct traffic, and doing it quite successfully, I might add. 

As you recall, Chris, this is—was very reminiscent of what happened in New York City during that power outage.  I was there in the city at that time.  And I can tell you that the feelings were very similar, and I think also the psychology somewhat similar as well, that there were not a—not just a few people who, of course, mentioned the coincidence of this particular incident and the reported tape from al Qaeda that surfaced over the weekend, specifically threatening Los Angeles, along with Melbourne, Australia. 

So, that was in the backs of people‘s minds, although nobody here that I could see anyway was panicking, in fact, relative calm on the streets, and certainly things are calming down right now—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you something very particular.  The red lights, are they working? 

OKWU:  The red lights are working.  In fact, at this particular intersection, the red lights, the green lights, all the lights are working.  It is actually very normal. 

Now, I can‘t tell you, since this is being sort of—the electricity and the power is being phased in across the city, I can‘t tell you what‘s happening just four blocks from here.  But I can tell you, here, things are working well. 

But I understand, in some parts of the city, that might not be the case at this hour. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we will check that out right now.  Thank you very much, Mike Okwu, who is out there for NBC in Los Angeles.

Let‘s go right now to Gale Harris.  She‘s with the Department of Water and Power for the city of Los Angeles. 

Ms. Harris, thank you for joining us. 

GALE HARRIS, LOS ANGELES DEPARTMENT OF WATER AND POWER:  Sure. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s going on? 

HARRIS:  Well, at 12:37 Pacific Time, we experienced an electrical problem that originated at a receiving station.  And it caused several facilities to lose power. 

The incident triggered widespread outages that affected a large part of the city, including the San Fernando Valley.  By 1:56 today, power was restored to the majority of our customers. 

MATTHEWS:  When do you expect full recovery? 

HARRIS:  We expect full recovery within the next couple of hours, but the majority were restored about a half-hour ago. 

MATTHEWS:  And, again, can you explain in layman‘s terms, Ms. Harris -

you are with the water and power authority.  Can you explain in layman‘s terms why the electricity and—throughout the metropolitan area of Los Angeles went out? 

HARRIS:  In layman‘s terminology, it was a mechanical problem.  Our crews are investigating as to the exact cause, but it was not terrorism. 

MATTHEWS:  You can say that authoritatively? 

HARRIS:  Yes.  It was an electrical, mechanical problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s great to hear from you.  Thank very much you for joining us.  People want to know the answer.  Thank you very much for joining us.

HARRIS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  We are going to take a break now.

We‘re looking at live pictures, courtesy of KNBC, of the power facilities in Los Angeles.  As I said, 90 minutes ago, the city of Los Angeles, across the city, lost its power for several minutes.  It took a while to get the system back up.  It scared a lot of people, because—not because of a fact, but because of news that, several days ago, we got the word that there was an al Qaeda who was threatening Los Angeles. 

It turns out, the two matters had nothing to do with each other.  This power outage was caused by a mechanical error, as we just heard from an authority out there.  But there was a scare tactic that was used.  And it‘s quite effective to scare people. 

We‘ll be right back with more coverage, our continuing coverage of the power outage in Los Angeles. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m Chris Matthews with HARDBALL down here in New Orleans. 

And you can see the damage to the city behind us.  But we had to go to a bigger story this afternoon, at least for the hour.  And that‘s the blackout in the city of Los Angeles.  The huge metropolitan area of Los Angeles was struck a bit—more than 90 minutes ago by a power outage that extended all the way to the San Fernando Valley. 

It scared some people.  It scared them because there had been a warning of a terrorist attack on that metropolitan area.  It turns out it had nothing to do with terrorism.  It had to do with a mechanical mistake made by one of the workman at one of substations, where the wrong switch was thrown or the artery was interrupted in some fashion, and a set of events led to a complete blackout of most of Los Angeles, which caused a real traffic situation, because we all know about the traffic in Los Angeles.

And the red lights weren‘t—traffic lights were not working.  People were having fender benders.  Some people were stuck in elevators, apparently still are.  There is still a lot of disruption in Los Angeles.  We are looking at a picture taken not long ago.  The traffic is lining up on the surface streets.  That‘s what they‘re called out there.  Regular streets are called surface streets in Los Angeles, as opposed to those beautiful freeways that normally make the city run, that surround the city and give it its quick speed if from one location to another. 

Everyone in L.A. drives.  And there, we have the problem. 

We are going to go right now to an NBC colleague of ours, Michael Okwu, who is standing at North Hollywood on a street corner interviewing people about what it feels like to be caught up in this interesting mess. 

And it‘s so hard—so far, is not lethal.  So, we can be little lighthearted about it so far. 

Michael, take over.

OKWU:  Well, Chris, trying to interview people, because, as you know, and, as you aptly mentioned, people drive in Los Angeles.  And, in fact, you can‘t find too many people on the streets. 

At this particular inter-corner, you can see, it‘s a major inter-corner here at—intersection.  You can hear helicopters overhead.  Some of these are news helicopters.  Some, we have seen in the past half-hour or so are police helicopters, obviously surveying the scene. 

But this is the scene in North Hollywood.  The lights have come back up.  The power has been restored here.  But about half-an-hour or so ago, there were flares in the middle of this street just here.  In fact, you can see still—still see some vestiges of those flares, as police officers who were trying to gain control of this intersection, knowing it is a major place for traffic, and trying to make sure that things did not devolve in some kind of chaos.

Keith Barber (ph) was driving on the freeway.  Is that right?  We call it freeways here, not highways, again.

And, Keith, tell me, when this happened, what—what happened to you? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I‘d say, about a half-an-hour ago, I was on my way to here from the Glendale area.  And the 134 stopped.  So, I decided to get off and take the streets and found out the streets were worse because the lights were out.  So, it took me at least 10 minutes more than on the freeway. 

OKWU:  So, what was—what was traffic like on the freeway?  You‘re saying that was fairly normal? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, no.  The traffic had stopped on the freeway, because I thought there was an accident.  So, I got off and went on the streets, and it was worse because the stoplights were out on the streets.  

OKWU:  Now, were you aware of—and I don‘t want to sound alarmist about this, but you were aware of the reported terrorist threat over the weekend? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  I wasn‘t aware of that until you just told me just now. 

OKWU:  OK.  So, you were fairly calm and the traffic was fairly calm, although it was pretty much backed up.  People weren‘t doing crazy things? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, I did notice some people were out of their apartment buildings and the work offices.  And I thought that was because of maybe a bomb threat or something.  But I never knew it was a terrorist attack or a terrorist threat. 

OKWU:  OK. 

Now, tell me whether you saw some of the things that I saw, just driving over here five minutes away.  I noticed that there were some regular civilians literally in the middle of the street directing traffic.  Did you see anything like that? 

OKWU:  No, I didn‘t come across that, but I did see the flares that you mentioned out in the road earlier.  But I didn‘t see any civilians directing traffic.

OKWU:  OK.  By the way, why are you walking now? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I just wanted to go across the street and get some fish and then go to the video store. 

OKWU:  OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, my car is parked here. 

OKWU:  All right.  Keith, thanks very much. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you. 

OKWU:  Appreciate your talking to us. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re welcome. 

OKWU:  Chris, again, this is sort of the—this has been the situation here in Los Angeles, people just like that—just like that gentleman there essentially saying that they were driving on the streets. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

OKWU:  It was pretty much backed up, but, again, a sense of relative calm, absolutely no panic in Los Angeles.

And, clearly, now that the power has been restored, things are returning back to the normal sort of congested sort of streets that you see here on a daily basis. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

OKWU:  Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  A fellow can go out and get his fish and get his Blockbuster movie now and relax. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, Michael Okwu, for that update from the street level, from the streets of Los Angeles.  Thank you for that report.  It was great to have you on.

Well, it turns out it wasn‘t something to worry about in any big sense.  It was the kind of thing we‘re getting used to, which is that power goes out once in a while in big cities.  And, in this case, it had to do with human error or something we are going to find out later.  A mechanical mistake was made and an artery was severed.  And, therefore, everything went out in Los Angeles. 

We‘re also happy that still New Orleans remains the major story of American problem-solving tonight, as we go to press tonight with our later edition of HARDBALL at 7:00 Eastern.  We are going to be talking about what, thank God, remains the biggest problem we have in the country, hasn‘t been outdone by anything out West.  And that‘s, of course, the need to rebuild this beloved city.

If you look behind me, it looks like almost the damage that was done during the Civil War here, buildings torn apart.  The things you don‘t see on television, we will try to show you tonight, even though you have to have a little of verbal explanation.  It‘s the expanse of the problem, that you go block after block after block, and you watch a panning motion of tragedy, of poor people‘s houses, with people with not a whole lot to start with, losing everything. 

And it goes on and on and on.  And, for the first time this afternoon, I felt really hurt by a situation I wasn‘t privy—present to until today, which is the sadness of a loss of a civilization, of a city that was built and is now down, really down.  And we hope it‘s not out, but it‘s clearly down. 

We are going to show you a lot of what we saw here today and last night and the wonderful work once again being done by the U.S. military.  Once again, the U.S. military has come through, as it always does, with the service they give to America. 

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m Chris Matthews in New Orleans. 

For the last hour, we have been covering the power outage in Los Angeles.  What a surprise that has been.  It turns out not to be a major danger to the country or to that city. 

It turns out that a workman cut a power line, which led to a chain reaction, which shut down the power throughout most of the metropolitan area of Los Angeles, including the area of—to the north, of course, the San Fernando Valley.  It turns out it was not in any way to do with terrorism.  It had to do with a mechanical failure. 

And we are all fortunate, in a weird way, to say that, as I leave that story and come to the one here in New Orleans that we have been covering now for two weeks now, that the big tragedy in America is still here in New Orleans. 

The devastation, well, when you come to New Orleans, it‘s not possible to imagine it until you see it.  It‘s something to see it on a television tube and to think about it and to read about it.  But to come here and look at it, as you pan, as you drive along a freeway and you look down and see a city, block after block, house after house, life after life affected by this tragedy, you get a sense of what we‘re really up against in this part of the country. 

Here‘s what I saw.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a big part of this story you can‘t pick up on television alone.  And when you come here, you get that part of the story. 

The smell, first of all.  I‘m trying to remember what this smell is.  It‘s something to do with sewage, a smell associated with underground sewage and the smell you can imagine.  And the other thing you notice is the absolute desolation.  We have been driving in here from for 20 miles from the outskirts of the city and there‘s no one here.  You drive over a major interstate, like 10, and there‘s no one on the highway. 

I guess the best reference is to imagine someone at a viewing when they‘ve died and they seem like they‘re OK because they‘ve been made up by the undertaker, but they‘re dead.  They‘re gone. 

You know, there‘s a real American reality to this whole hell down here.  And because so much of this is familiar looking to us.  You know, there‘s a strip in every city, outside every city, a number of them, that have a McDonald‘s.  It‘s what we‘re used to.  It‘s sort of the way we mark our trail. 

You see a McDonald‘s and, at the first sight, you think, well, I‘m home.  And then you look and realize, it‘s all rubble around.  It‘s dead.  It‘s like seeing a cadaver. 

That‘s another thing, besides the smell, down here that hits you, is the immensity of the damage and the depth of the water.  And you can even see the water level and see that the water level has come down.  But a good, interesting way of marking when the disaster struck here, it‘s almost like a clock that broke when the storm hit. 

If you come over here to this “USA Today” stand—and there it is, August 26-28.  It‘s the weekend edition, the Friday-Saturday-Sunday edition of two weeks ago.  And you get a sense of when this all came to—came apart here, this whole way of life here in New Orleans. 

Before this hurricane hit here two weeks ago, the biggest story in the country—and it will be again—is the fact that we‘re at war in Iraq.  And it‘s pretty powerful to meet young guys serving their country. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It smells just like Iraq. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It smells like certain parts of Fallujah.  I can tell you that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  This must be so strange, to come back to your own country and see it look like a Third World country. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is something...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not right. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The destruction here is amazing.  It really is. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you see your mission?  What is it? 

MAJ. ROB CAMPBELL, 82ND AIRBORNE:  I think we‘re facilitating the effort of the local authorities, really. 

They don‘t have to worry about an outer cordon type of security.  We can facilitate them having to do their jobs.  They are the ones that have to go in and get any kind of a looters, any kind of—anybody breaking the law. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CAMPBELL:  That‘s their job. 

And we provide the presence, I think, in this area, just with the manpower we bring here, to cover down on all the houses and all the areas that we really need to get out and spread out and check out.  I think that‘s what we can bring to the area. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s no electricity, certainly no sewage.

There‘s no water running.  There‘s no people around.  It reminds you probably, if you have seen those movies like “The Morning After”—“The Day After” or “28 Days” about, after a major catastrophe in the world.  And so, you‘re not used to that 360-degree-look at a place, where you can look all around and see the same thing that you can only see on your TV set right now. 

But imagine in every direction seeing desolation and silence. 

Certainly, now it looks like Venice, but a pretty ugly Venice right now.  And the interesting thing is that everything is around you.  Like, if you look at the ground over here, you can see, you know, the residue of life, you know, everything, everything, shoes, old boots, like this old boot here.

And, you know, it‘s a catastrophe. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, one hour from now, we‘re going to have our 7:00 Eastern edition of HARDBALL.  It will be a special edition.  I‘m down here in New Orleans.

Why were local and federal authorities so unprepared for terrorists Hurricane Katrina.  Why weren‘t they ready?  Did they make this unprecedented disaster an even greater tragedy?  It‘s a fair question, because we have to look to the—forward.  What went wrong and what we don‘t happening again, that‘s coming up at 7:00 Eastern tonight. 

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan Abrams. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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