A lightning strike just after sunset Friday in Hawaii apparently pulled the plug on most of the island of Oahu, where President-elect Barack Obama and his family are vacationing. One power plant continued to operate and parts of the island's western sector continued to have electricity. The compound where the Obamas are residing in an $11 million home was reported to have a power generator. But the rest of the island, including the state capital Honolulu, was plunged into darkness and confusion for nearly twelve hours. (See pictures of Barack Obama's family tree.)
The power stopped at about 7:30 p.m. Friday after a rare lightning storm crossed the island. Traffic lights ceased operating; cars were jammed at intersections; cordless phones did not work; panicking residents flooded 911 with calls. Most islanders received news by way of car or battery-operated radios, which included Japanese-language announcements to keep tourists informed of developments. Some mobile phone users had spotty reception because a number of cell towers apparently were not equipped with efficient generators. Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said over the radio that power would not be fully restored for at least 12 hours. After a recent earthquake that affected Hawaii's largest city, it took two days before electricity came back completely. By 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, however, most of the island had lights back again, though there were still some pockets without power.
When the lights went out on Friday evening, droves of people, patrons and employees, alike stood outside of restaurants, standing on the sidewalks of Honolulu, trying to fathom what had happened. Crowds and families at city hall enjoying the annual Honolulu City Lights found themselves wandering in the dark. But in the background, fireworks were going off in intermittent bursts, visible everywhere in the residential districts. They had gone on sale Friday in preparation for New Year's eve celebrations.
The Hawaii-born Obama, his wife and daughters Sasha and Malia are staying at Paradise Point Estates, an enclave of homes at the end of a private road in the exclusive beachside community of Kailua, located on Oahu's Windward side. There are three homes in the compound where Obama is staying; the future first family is occupying a property featuring 5,000 square feet of interior living space and a 1,900 square foot lanai. With reporting by Betsy Burton/Oahu and Howard Chua-Eoan
See pictures of Barack Obama's college years.