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Hawaii blackout left Obama in dark for 12 hours

HONOLULU (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama was without electricity for 12 hours at his vacation home on Oahu following a major blackout across Hawaii’s most populous island, an aide said on Saturday.

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The outage on Friday night left hundreds of thousands of people, including Obama and his family, in the dark as an electrical storm rolled over Oahu.

“Power was restored to the residence during the 6 o’clock hour this morning. The Obama family is grateful for the offers of assistance from local officials,” said Ben Labolt, a spokesman for Obama.

Those offers, from the mayor of Honolulu and Hawaii’s governor, reportedly included generators. An Obama aide said the family did not use one.

Residents of Oahu said blackouts, albeit on a much smaller scale, are common. The last major power cut was in 2006, they said.

Hawaiian electricity company spokesman Darren Pai said that by 7 a.m. local time, electricity had been restored to about half of the customers affected by Friday’s outage.

They included people on the eastern side of the island, central Oahu and patches of the state capital Honolulu, Waikiki and Kailua, where Obama and his family are vacationing.

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Pai said he had no confirmation of what caused the blackout that left the entire island, home to about 900,000 people, without power.

Earlier a civil defense official said it was possible a lightning strike on a transformer was responsible.

“Our priority is to restore power,” Pai told Reuters. “This will include helicopter flyovers of power lines that we could not do last night when it was dark.”

Bill Brennan, spokesman for Honolulu, said Mayor Mufi Hannemann relayed a message to the president-elect’s beachfront villa between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Friday asking whether the Obamas needed anything.

“He said they were fine, safe and secure and thank you for asking,” Brennan said.

Obama, who was born in Hawaii, arrived for a 12-day vacation with his family on December 20. The Obamas are in Kailua with close friends from Chicago and their families.

The outage, which began at 6:30 p.m., knocked out traffic lights and snarled traffic on major roads. In Waikiki, the hub of Hawaii’s tourist industry, tourists left their hotels in search of food and water. Lines formed outside convenience stores, and some had to wait an hour to buy supplies.

Asked when power would be fully restored to the island, Pai said: “I can’t give you an estimate at this time, just many hours.”

Editing by Xavier Briand