Live blog: Cal explosion sends 1 to hospital, clears campus

Explosion in Berkeley, California

Emergency personnel respond to an explosion and fire on the University of California in Berkeley, California, on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. The explosion apparently occurred in an electrical generator. Photo: David Yee

[Editor's Note: Monday afternoon, a power outage and subsequent explosion rocked the UC Berkeley campus and sent one student to the hospital. Scroll down to view Berkeleyside's live blog of updates throughout the night. See a chronological version of events here.]

Update, 11:59 p.m. During UC Berkeley’s evacuation Monday due to a power outage and the explosion that followed, members of Cal’s amateur radio club remained nearby to help spread the word about the developing situation to emergency workers and ham radio operators throughout the area.

Jack Burris (amateur radio call-sign “K6JEB”) works as an IT manager for UC Berkeley’s social sciences Data Lab and is president of the radio club. He said he and another club member, Joel Martin (call-sign “KQ1N”), had attended the 9 p.m. university press conference and broadcast it on their radios to other ham operators, who had fanned out to area fire departments after receiving an informal alert about the emergency.

Burris said he had been inside Barrows Hall when the power went out around 4:40 p.m.

“Almost right away we heard that there were people trapped in the Barrows Hall elevator.… A total of about 20 people were held in there and they’ve all been let out,” he said at about 9:30 p.m.

Burris didn’t hear the large explosion outside California Hall — caused by a fire inside a steam tunnel — but he did hear a “big ‘pop'” as “everything electric immediately stopped” inside Barrows. “And at that instant, I looked out the window over at the emergency generator, which went on right away. I knew something was up with the electrical in the building but there were no alarms, which was strange.”

He said the IT staff decided to evacuate immediately regardless.

The UC Berkeley power outage: Just another school… night? Photo: polarwishes

UC Berkeley students during the power outage. Photo: polarwishes

“As we were going down the stairs, pretty much everyone else in the building was doing the same thing,” he said. As it was the end of the day, with work winding down already, he said the mood was calm. “It was very orderly. There was no panic. Nobody was running. We do have drills, and most of us thought originally it was just another one of those.”

Added Burris shortly before 10 p.m. as he surveyed the still-dark university grounds: “I’ve never seen anything like this. They’ve never emptied campus like this in the whole time I’ve been here.”

As of 11:15 p.m., partial power to the campus had been restored. According to university officials, efforts to get the rest of the campus power system online will continue overnight. A decision about whether or not classes will be in session is expected by 5 a.m. Tuesday.

(Berkeleyside would like to send a special shout-out to UC Berkeley student and amateur radio operator Joel Martin for providing key technical assistance during the reporting of this story. Learn more about UC Berkeley’s ham radio club, and other ham radio efforts in Alameda County. Listen to an extended interview with Burris via CalTV here.)

Update, 11:05 p.m. According to the ASUC president, Cal administrators will make the final decision on whether or not to hold classes Tuesday at around 5 a.m.

Update, 9:39 p.m. Cal spokesman Dan Mogulof held a press conference at 9 p.m. to update the media about Monday’s power outage and subsequent explosion, which sent one student to the hospital with minor injuries. Berkeleyside’s Frances Dinkelspiel was on scene for the event.

“According to witnesses, the explosion was about two stories high and as wide as a two-lane street,” he said.

Mogulof said the power outage, at 4:30 p.m., was related to vandalism that had taken place previously within a mile of campus. He told Berkeleyside earlier Monday that the vandalism had been going on for quite some time. The campus experienced some electrical problems over the weekend, which led authorities to realize there was a problem. He said officials thought the problem was fixed, but then the power went out Monday. Cal turned on its emergency generators, which led to an explosion that blew a cover off a manhole near California Hall at 6:30 p.m.]

Mogulof said that all dorms are currently without power. Said Dinkelspiel, almost everywhere on campus is black except for the Campanile and Sproul Hall: “Nobody can remember a time when the campus has been evacuated like this.”

Mogulof said Cal has 14 power stations around campus, where electrical engineers are on-hand with Berkeley Fire Department personnel who will be working to bring the power back online gradually. There is some concern that there could be another explosion, he said.

Mogulof said some people were trapped in an elevator from about 6:30-8:30 p.m., but that they were rescued by Berkeley Police and Fire personnel. He also confirmed that there was a small ammonia leak but said it had been contained quickly.

Mogulof said the university is hoping to hold classes tomorrow, and that there will be another briefing at 10 p.m.

Mogulof said the university has been fielding calls from many “worried parents,” and assured those who had gathered: “There are 50,000 people who work, teach and study here, so we’re not going to do anything to put people in harm’s way.”

Update, 9:15 p.m. Cal has confirmed that there was a small ammonia leak on campus earlier today. According to an unconfirmed notification, the leak was reported at 5:39 p.m. at Latimer Hall, which is south of Gayley Road across from the Hearst Greek Theatre.

Update, 8:59 p.m. UC Berkeley is asking everyone to “stay away from central campus until further notice,” according to an update posted at 8:45 p.m. “Campus officials are monitoring the situation.”

No information has been posted yet about the status of classes Oct. 1.

UC students create an improvised classroom on Center Street to review biology. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

UC students create an improvised classroom on Center Street to review biology. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Update, 8:45 p.m. Berkeleyside editor Frances Dinkelspiel reported from the scene that, despite class cancellations, some students were still trying to get a night’s work in. She said a group of about 14 students had set up an impromptu classroom on Center Street near Shattuck Avenue right on the curb outside the Bank of America building. The biology students were heading to a review session when they were told to leave campus.

“We went to the classroom where the review was supposed to happen, but we were told to evacuate,” said second-year student Diego Dubom. “And then we started moving our way from campus down to where we are now.”

UC Berkeley has confirmed via Twitter at 8:41 p.m. that everyone who had been stuck in elevators has been rescued. For more updates, call 800-705-9998.

News crews on the Cal campus around 8:30 p.m. Photo: Siciliana Trevino

News crews on the Cal campus, at Bancroft and Telegraph, around 8:30 p.m. Photo: Siciliana Trevino

Update, 8:28 p.m. UC Berkeley authorities report via Twitter that one student with minor injuries was transported to the hospital following Monday’s explosion. Two or three people with minor injuries declined to be taken to the hospital; authorities were unsure whether or not these individuals were affiliated with Cal.

Via Twitter: “As far as we know, all those stuck in elevators were rescued. Don’t know if classes are on for tomorrow yet.”

Update, 8:21 p.m. As of 8:12 p.m., Cal reports that “Email has been restored and other systems are coming online.” Berkeleyside readers are reporting multiple power outages in different buildings throughout the day — in Morrison Hall, Dwinelle Hall, Wurster Hall and the Energy Biosciences Building — prior to a more widespread outage at 4:30 p.m.

Wrote one Cal employee about the scene at Dwinelle: “We’ve never had a power outage since I started working there; it was surreal, and there were loud motor noises coming from outside.”

Update, 7:52 p.m. Cal spokesman Dan Mogulof said the campus is closed but the fire appears to be out. Berkeley Police and Fire are on the scene.

Mogulof said the the cause of the explosion, which followed a widespread power outage at 4:30 p.m., “appears to be related to an incident of vandalism on our electrical system.” He said vandals had been digging up copper grounding wires on campus, “which caused extensive damage to the electrical system.”

The vandalism was discovered late last week, but “it appears it had been going on for quite a while.”

Mogulof said the visible damage had been repaired on the weekend.

“What happened today is an indication that the vandals caused far more damage than we could originally see or assess,” he said just before 8 p.m. Monday.

Mogulof said the explosion, outside California Hall at about 6:30 p.m., sent one person to the hospital, but the injuries were minor. He said no information was available about the identity of the person who was injured, such as whether it was a student.

Original post, 7:33 p.m. The University of California is reporting an emergency situation on campus. See the following notice, which was just posted. We’ll update the story as more information becomes available. According to one Berkeleyside reader, power has been out campus-wide since 4:45 p.m.

7:27 p.m.: The power outage and explosion were due to a power system failure. All are asked to leave the main campus area immediately. For updates call 800-705-9998.

The main Berkeley website is experiencing difficulties due to a power outage on campus. Classes are cancelled and labs are closed for today (9/30). More information will be posted at this location. For ongoing updates, please call 1-800-705-9998 throughout the evening.

There is an emergency in progress on the UC Berkeley campus. Updated details are being posted on the campus NewsCenter.

This backup emergency website will not receive further updates unless service to the main UC Berkeley news website (newscenter.berkeley.edu) is disrupted. The current status of campus computer systems also is available online.

Information about preparing for a campus emergency is available from the Office of Emergency Preparedness website.

Related:
Cal campus reels from power outage caused by vandals (09.30.13)

Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas is two days of provocative thinking, inspiring speakers, workshops, and a big party — all in downtown Berkeley in October. Read all about it, be part of it. Register on the Uncharted website.

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  • Bill N

    This video is just east of Dwinelle and north of Sather Gate. Hard to imagine this specific filmed incident was vandalism.

  • Phineas Phreak

    turned on the fire dept radio scanner when i heard all the sirens. There was a report of an explosion, soon thereafter a call for three ambulances and a report of one with burns

  • Kei

    What about the Ammonia leak? Scroll down to see feed from IPN http://www.broadcastify.com/listen/ctid/183

  • bingo

    Digging for copper has now come to Berkeley too? Fantastic. Downtown Oakland was ravaged by this a few years ago. Welcome back to the Bronze Age.

  • Iceland_1622

    This version of theft is so widespread now that it stuns and surprises me deeply as it falls into the category of the “near impossible”. I mean to say there was an entire bridge in Napa Co. that was stripped clean of *all* of the it’s new major wiring at a cost of major *millions* after it had been fully retrofitted. However, as with this, it begs me to ask where were all of the observant police officers that everyone pays so much $$$ to, doing ( again ) while this was going on and what were passing students and researchers doing as well? They do carry all of those cell phones do they not?

    There should be clear HD video of this and if there is not, I am going to leave that to others to ponder and question. To bring down an entire university is not an easy task, or is it?

  • emraguso

    Sorry about that — I left a few words out of that update. It has been corrected — thanks!

  • Guest

    Not a very impressive comment from Mogulof. Vandals don’t dig up copper wires. Thieves do.

  • Phineas Phreak

    I blame obama

  • Bob

    Government shutdown came a little early to Berkeley.

  • robertsgt40

    There has to be a way to pin this on Syria or Iran.