San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders on Tuesday declared a citywide state of emergency as San Diego's orgy of arson, looting and mayhem resulting from this weekend's Earth Hour observance entered its third day.
Earth Hour, an annual event in which cities across the globe show their commitment to energy conservation by switching off “all nonessential lighting” for 60 minutes, was observed without incident in other municipalities Saturday.
But in San Diego, where a clerical error resulted in the omission of the word “nonessential” in an SDG&E memo to staff, the evening's celebrations quickly turned into a pitched battle for survival as hundreds of inmates from city jails used the hour-long total blackout to escape.
The jubilant inmates rampaged through local neighborhoods, looting homes and setting fire to everything in their path before racing across the two-mile Coronado Bridge and seizing the historic Hotel del Coronado. Hours later, police dynamited the bridge in an effort to contain the situation.
But in Downtown San Diego on Saturday, the jailbreaks were just the beginning of the city's problems. Minutes after Earth Hour commenced locally at 8:30 p.m., a wall of flames could be seen marching down C Street toward City Hall. Massive traffic jams prevented firefighters from reaching many of the blazes. In San Diego hospitals, where power-intensive equipment like artificial respirators and dialysis machines quickly overwhelmed back-up generators, doctors are still counting the dead.
With columns of smoke still visible in the distance behind him, Sanders on Tuesday promised a full investigation into how city and SDG&E officials failed to realize Earth Hour's potential for wreaking havoc.
“Like most San Diegans, I, too, am concerned about America's dangerous dependence on foreign energy and the long-term effects of global warming,” Sanders said. “But allowing a veritable army of convicted murderers, rapists and thieves to run willy-nilly through our streets is not the answer to anything.”
Sanders said he will ask City Attorney Jan Goldsmith to look into the possibility of a lawsuit against the World Wildlife Fund, which sponsors Earth Hour, to recoup some of San Diego's monetary losses.
This story was part of our April Fool's Day issue of 2009. Don't believe it.