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Obamas lost power for 11 hours in Hawaii

Crews gradually restored electrical service across parts of Oahu on Saturday after a power failure blacked out the island's population of about 900,000.
/ Source: The Associated Press

President-elect Barack Obama's Hawaiian vacation was darkened for 11 hours Friday night and early Saturday when a power failure enveloped the island of Oahu.

Obama, wife Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha are staying in a $9 million, five-bedroom oceanfront house near downtown Honolulu. His spokesman Ben LaBolt said Saturday that power to the compound went out around 7 p.m. Friday.

LaBolt said that Obama's power was restored just before 6 a.m. Saturday, about the same time as that of Obama's neighbors.

LaBolt said in a statement that the Obama family is grateful for the offers of assistance from local officials. He would not comment on whether any generators on the property had been put to use.

The utility had restored power to all but a few thousand of its 293,000 customers by early Saturday evening, said company spokesman Darren Pai.

The power failure blacked out the island's population of about 900,000 and thousands of visitors. Residents had been urged to just stay home after the lights went out during a thunderstorm Friday evening. Hawaiian Electric Co. was investigating the cause.

Obama aides refuse to give details
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann told The Associated Press that while he did not talk with Obama directly, he had conveyed an offer for assistance shortly after the blackout began and was told the president-elect and his family were doing fine.

"He replied he didn't need anything, was grateful for our offer and was going to put his family to bed," Hannemann said.

Hannemann said three generators had been installed earlier for Obama's rented compound. He said a fourth generator which Gov. Linda Lingle had sent for Obama was turned away, but the power company later set up a bigger one in the neighborhood in case it was needed.

Military personnel hooked the generator up and Obama came out to thank them, said Russell Pang, a spokesman for Gov. Linda Lingle.

Obama aides refused to release a basic timeline of events such as when the home lost power and when it was restored — information typically released by presidents and presidents-elect.

The refusal to release that information led to confusion as local officials, companies and neighbors described what took place on Obama's pitch-black street — but not aides to the president-elect.

First full power cut since quake
It was the first time all of Oahu had lost power since Oct. 15, 2006, when a 6.7 magnitude earthquake shook the Hawaiian Islands and knocked out power on Oahu and parts of other islands for up to two days. Authorities at the time expressed concern that the whole island lost power and the same concerns were being raised Saturday.

"This is something in Hawaiian Electric's hands," said Hannemann, who governs all of Oahu. "There are some legitimate questions to be raised. We would like to know how we can ensure this type of thing doesn't happen again."

Hannemann told The Associated Press that some residents would be without electricity for 17 hours or more. Hawaiian Electric spokeswoman Jan Loose said power to some neighborhoods would likely not be restored until late Saturday.

"Keep your fingers crossed. We should have everybody restored. But folks on the east side will be out most of the morning," Loose said in radio interviews.

The Honolulu Advertiser said the island-wide blackout prevented printing and delivery of the paper Saturday, but it provided an electronic edition on its Web site headlined "POWERLESS."

Honolulu Star-Bulletin editor Frank Bridgewater said his paper planned to deliver a one-section, 16-page edition for Saturday.

Air, road traffic fouled
Honolulu International Airport operated on emergency generators, with flights delayed up to several hours. Some incoming passengers were kept on planes for extended periods.

Hawaiian Electric spokesman Peter Rosegg said the initial power outage hit at 6:45 p.m., affecting most of the island. The rest of Oahu lost power two hours later when the last generator failed.

The telephone provider Hawaiian Telcom kept most of its system in service on generator and battery backup, spokeswoman Ann Nishida said.

The failure closed stores at major retail outlets just after sunset, halting post-Christmas shopping a couple of hours early.

Highways were clogged as everyone tried to get home at once without stoplights to control traffic.

"I would advise ... everyone to just go to sleep," Lingle said in a radio interview late Friday.