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PG&E fought to reduce the power to millions of Californians

SONOMA, Calif. – California governor on down beat the state's largest tool on Wednesday to roll blackouts that could throw up to 2 million people in the dark as it crawls to keep its power lines from spreading new fires.

Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., or PG&E, began shutting down power in phases early Wednesday to about 500,000 customers in northern and central parts of the state, including parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. A second wave, affecting some 250,000 customers, began in the afternoon.

Because customers include companies in addition to individual homes, PG&E said the shutdown could affect as many as 2 million Californians. And it said customers would not receive compensation for lost businesses, housing alternatives or spoiled food and medicines.

"I'm upset because it didn't have to happen," Govin told Newsom in an appearance Wednesday in San Diego.

Newsom agreed that PG&E probably had no alternative but to introduce the so-called public safety shutdown when high winds combined with low humidity created ideal conditions for what PG&E called potentially catastrophic fires.

But the governor said PG&E should never have come to this point.

"They are bankrupt because of their terrible management that goes back decades," Newsom said. "They created these relationships."

PG&E's energy unit explained the largest utility in US history in January when it faced huge debts from its role in several highly destructive fires that burned hundreds of thousands of acres in Northern California in 201

7 and 2018.

More than 80 people were killed last year in one of the magazines, called the camp. The company could be on the hook for up to $ 18 billion in financial damage in a planned trial over its liability in Camp Fire and other devastating wildfires dating back to 2017.

PG&E said Wednesday night that work to restore power cannot begin until this week's dangerous weather has passed and all tool lines have been inspected for safety. And even then it can go forward only in daylight.

Citing the large number of outages and the potential unknown damage, "we only know that it can take several days to fully restore power," said Sumeet Singh, PG & E's vice president of the Community Fire Protection Program.

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That view scares people like Wanda Stricklin, 84, who has lived at Seven Flags of Sonoma, a motorhome community for elderly in Sonoma, southwest of Sacramento, for 24 years.

Stricklin told NBC News that she has diabetes, which she treats with insulin that must be kept cool. But the power went out at Seven Flags overnight, and "they tell me we might be out for five days."

"I have to keep making sure that all my medications for my diabetes will really stay put," Stricklin said. "Otherwise, I have to get new diabetic medicine."

If she has to throw out the insulin, there is no guarantee that her health coverage will provide it at an affordable price. Nor could she turn to PG&E for help.

"Because we turn off the power for security reasons, we do not replace customers," Ari Vanrenen, a spokeswoman for the tool, told NBC News on Wednesday.

"If a customer wants to file a claim, we will evaluate on a case by case basis," she said.

Jackie Duncan, 79, who lived at Seven Flags for 2½ years, said her 50-year-old daughter has been diabetic since she was 7 years old and takes four shots of insulin each day.

"The insulin, that's really what my concern is," Duncan said, for ice cream for storage coolers has been hard to find.

"And that's another issue for people here in the park who also have oxygen," she said. "It's not good, but they don't seem to care. They don't care, really."

Darryl Blanton, 80, a resident since 1989, said he would be afraid he might not wake up. That's because he uses a coercive device called C-PAP to regulate breathing while he sleeps.

"I've been using it since 2003 and I can't sleep without it," Blanton said. "And it's bad for my health – I can have a heart attack because I can't sleep."

Blanton said that the machine's spare battery is good for just the day, so he had to find a friend who has the power to charge every day.

"We're older," he said. "I'm 80, and I'm not a young, spiteful man anymore."

Other Californians may have taken more extreme measures.

The California Highway Patrol told NBC News that it was investigating what appeared to be a driver of the shooting of a flagged PG&E truck on Tuesday night.

The truck was on a freeway in Williams, in Colusa County, when its passenger side window broke, the CHP said, and an investigation revealed it was struck by a bullet. The driver was not injured, it said.

Singh, PG & E's vice chairman, said that the company understood the stressful impact of the shutdown and worked as quickly as possible to restore power.

"This is not a decision we take lightly," he said. "This is the measure needed as a last resort."

Singh acknowledged that PG&E could have taken action sooner to ensure that its faulty lines would not lead to fires. But he said he "doesn't look at the past" and that "we do everything we can."

"We are where we are at the moment," he said. "We can all quarterback on Monday morning later."

Singh and Vanrenen, the spokeswoman for PG&E, blamed climate change for some of the company's problems.

Singh said that hardening of PGE's infrastructure would be "a multi-year journey."

However, Vanrenen said that extreme weather was increasing due to climate change, "and we believe this is the new norm that we must be prepared for."

That's not good enough for Duncan and her neighbors at Seven Flags.

"They could have done something a long time ago to protect us and their equipment," Duncan said.

"And that's their problem, not ours," she said. "I feel strong about it."

Sottile and Ward reported from Sonoma; Johnson reported from Los Angeles.

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