- Pacific Gas & Electric is cutting power to 750,000 customers in Northern California, impacting close to 2.5 million people.
- Current severe dry winds have increased the chances of wildfires, so PG&E is turning off power to lessen their risk of contributing to one.
- Californians are already upset with the company, which was found responsible for the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people.
- But frustrations are now even higher as the outages have already caused car accidents, closed businesses, and could potentially cost the state billions in lost revenue.
PG&E Starts Outages
Millions in Northern California are being impacted by widespread planned power outages which have triggered gas shortages, car accidents, and long-term economic consequences.
Pacific Gas and Electric anticipates that close to 750,000 customers will be impacted by the outages, which started on Wednesday morning. A total of 2.5 million people in the states are expected to feel its effects.
PG&E is executing these “Public Safety Power Shutoffs” to prevent wildfires in the area. Severe hot, dry winds are currently making their way through Northern California, increasing the chances of a fire. PG&E was found responsible for 2018’s Camp Fire which killed 85 people. Anticipating this, the company filed for bankruptcy in January, predicting facing $30 billion in damages from both the Camp Fire, as well as other fires in 2017.
The outages could last for several days, with the mayor of San Jose warning it could last a week. People in areas affected by the shutoffs are already waiting in long lines at the grocery store and gas stations, and even seeing some stations run out of fuel. Several schools and businesses have closed as a result of the outages as well, leaving people without work.
Several car crashes related to the outages have also been reported. Traffic lights are not working, making major intersections more vulnerable to accidents. The city of Santa Rosa said that multiple collisions have occurred at intersections without power, with at least five resulting in injuries.
Concerned customers were also left in the dark when PG&E’s website crashed on Wednesday. Over 12 hours later, they created an entirely new site just devoted to the shutoffs.
Economic Impact of Power Outrage
Perhaps the most long-lasting consequence of these outages is the dame done to the economy. According to Michael Wara, the Director of the Stanford Woods Institute, this could cost anywhere between $65 million to $2.5 billion in economic losses.
Other reports indicate that the number could be closer to $1 billion. PG&E also says customers will not be reimbursed for losses during the outages.
Money is also only part of what is at stake for those in Northern California. The area is home to massive hubs of scientific, medical and technological research.
In an email to the New York Times, one researcher at the University of California, Berkeley said valuable research is at risk.
“Many friends and colleagues barely have enough emergency power to keep freezers cold and incubators running,” graduate student Julia Torvi wrote.
“These two things hold millions of dollars of research, tens of years of effort, their contents being irreplaceable.”
Frustrations With PG&E
Frustrations with PG&E are high among residents. Several leaders in California have spoken up about the blackout and condemned PG&E for this practice.
State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-11) called it “completely unacceptable.”
Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said that PG&E should be “held responsible for the maintenance of their power lines.”
The public outrage extends even further. A PG&E office in Oroville closed after its front door was vandalized. Reports say that it appeared someone had thrown eggs at it sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
A PG&E truck was also struck by a bullet on Tuesday night. The California Highway Patrol is still investigating the incident. A bullet hit the passenger window. The driver was not injured.
In a statement Wednesday, Sumeet Singh, the Vice President of PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Program released a statement sympathizing with customers.
“We understand that this power shutoff is difficult for our customers and communities. Please check on your neighbors, friends and family and know that we will work safely, and quickly as possible, to restore power across the region,” the statement read. “Our meteorological and operations teams are actively monitoring the weather and this evolving situation, and we are working directly with state and local agencies to help our customers and communities through this event safely.”
Currently, they have been able to restore power back to 50,000 residents.
See what others are saying: (San Francisco Chronicle) (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.