Local News

Monday, Aug 05 2013 05:33 PM

LOUIS AMESTOY: PG&E plant demolition proves value of social media

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    Louis Amestoy, The Californian's digital content director.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    A PG&E truck exits the old steam power plant Monday afternoon. Cal-OSHA and the California Public Utilities Commission have begun investigating after the implosion of the two remaining towers injured five people, including one man in who is in critical condition.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    A Cleveland Wrecking Co. excavator sits to the right of the two demolished towers of the old Pacific Gas & Electric steam power plant on Aug. 5 after the implosion knocked them to the ground early Aug. 3.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    The two remaining towers of the old Pacific Gas &Electric steam power plant are on their sides Sunday after the implosion knocked them to the ground at Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway early Saturday morning.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    The two remaining towers of the old Pacific Gas & Electric steam power plant are on their sides Aug. 4 after the implosion knocked them to the ground at Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway early Aug. 3.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    A hole in the fence near Lowe's marks where one man was seriously injured after a piece of shrapnel flew from the implosion of the old Kern Power Plant through two fences and hit him in the leg at Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    A hole in the fence near Lowe's marks where one man was seriously injured after a piece of shrapnel flew from the implosion of the old Kern Power Plant through two fences and hit him in the leg at Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    A worker takes a few last pictures of the two remaining towers at the old Kern Power Plant before the implosion on Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway early Saturday morning.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    Hundreds of people gather outside of Best Buy on Rosedale Highway around 5 a.m. as they wait to see the implosion of the old Kern Power Plant.

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    By Louis Amestoy/ The Californian

    A Kern County firefighter washes away blood near where at least one person was critically injured by shrapnel from the implosion of PG&E's power plant along Rosedale Highway. The victim was standing just north of Jet Way and east of Coffee Road.

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    By Louis Amestoy/ The Californian

    A Kern County firefighter picks up articles of clothing and other items where at least one person was critically injured by shrapnel from the implosion of PG&E's power plant along Rosedale Highway on Aug. 3, 2013. The victim was standing just north of Jet Way and east of Coffee Road.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    An explosion knocks down one of the remaining towers at the old Kern Power Plant at Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway in August. The demolition of the plant, which has been closed since 1995 after operating for about 37 years, was part of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s plan to sell the site for redevelopment.

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    By Autumn Parry / The Californian

    A demolished power plant lies in smoke where the old Kern Power Plant used to stand after PG&E imploded the two remaining towers at Coffee Road and Rosedale Highway early Aug. 3, 2013.

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BY LOUIS AMESTOY Californian digital content director

Even before Saturday's implosion of Pacific Gas & Electric's Kern Power Plant took a turn for the worse, the event was all the buzz on social media as thousands of people gathered in northwest Bakersfield to see the old steam-powered plant come crashing down.

At 4:55 a.m., there were substantial crowds along Rosedale Highway. A camper was parked in the lot between Chuy's and Roadhouse Grill restaurants. Dozens of amateur photographers and videographers (although some with better equipment than the media) were positioned to capture the explosive power needed to knock down the steel superstructures. Someone was also flying a remote-control helicopter over the street, which felt more like a parade route than a demolition.

On Instagram, Facebook and Twitter people shared their images of the pre-dawn party that was developing on Rosedale Highway. At almost every vantage point, people shared their experience on YouTube.

And then we heard the booms. Admittedly, it was impressive. Tweets flew before the last bit of dust settled. People cheered, which we captured on our live video stream for bakersfield.com, and then we all left.

Since the media was kept in an area just south of Rosedale Highway, within the fence line of PG&E's property, we had no idea what had just happened on Jet Way, just east of the plant.

But for those who follow Twitter and Facebook, in particular, there was already a sense of foreboding. Facebook posts began to suggest someone had been critically injured. While the sirens wailed in the background, people in the Lowe's parking lot were faced with the unfolding horror of what had just happened. In contrast, people along Rosedale descended upon restaurants for a post-implosion breakfast.

Within a few moments of the blast, we had posted a photo on Facebook of the explosion and by 6:45 a.m. reader Sandy Murray wrote: "Someone in the Lowe's Parking Lot by the Overpass of the canal was hurt. I heard the his legs were cut off by his calf ... sad a lot of people there ... and a lot of fire and ambulance immediately after."

Our photo was liked 242 times, shared another 72, but it was the comments that were beginning to paint the real picture.

Like many, we had left the implosion with a sense amazement -- like a big fireworks show on the Fourth -- but that was soon tempered.

When we arrived at Lowe's it was clear what had happened. Along the canal road, Bakersfield police officers huddled, firefighters had the responsibility of cleaning up the scene, including washing off the blood from the asphalt where a 43-year-old man had been critically injured. Dozens of people milled about, most clutching cameras and phones.

By the time we got back to The Californian offices, YouTube videos had already been posted showing multiple angles of the implosion. As the story emerged, we began to update our social media pages with news, and more responses poured in.

It was clear that was going to be one of Bakersfield's most shared events. People shared videos, photos, Tweets and updates with us, television stations and the national media. By the end of Saturday night, we had dozens of comments, including furious debates on Facebook about whether people should have been allowed to watch.

The Californian's own YouTube videos were picked up by Huffington Post, shared on Facebook and Twitter, and had been viewed in more than 100 countries by the end of Saturday.

In the end, this event was further proof, from nearly all angles, that social media is the new medium -- sometimes the preferred medium -- of communication for many, and it's here to stay.

Louis Amestoy is The Californian's digital content director.

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