5 Oct 2014

Power out in Auckland for 39,600 properties

9:47 pm on 5 October 2014

Tens of thousands of people in Auckland are spending the night without power - and some may not get it restored until Tuesday.

This Newmarket petrol station has been closed all day because of the power cut.

This Newmarket petrol station has been closed all day because of the power cut. Photo: RNZ / Kate Newton

A fire in an underground cable at the Penrose substation cut power to about 85,000 homes and businesses this morning. Lines company Vector said on Sunday evening that 39,600 remained without electricity.

Vector said it was slowly restoring supply, with crews still working in several areas including Sylvia Park, Remuera, and Mt Wellington.

The company is asking all its customers to be as frugal as they can with energy use, so crews can backfeed power across boundaries to areas without it.

Vector said power was back in the suburbs of Onehunga, Epsom, Penrose, Newmarket, Glenn Innes, Westfield, Te Papapa and Rockfield.

But it said people in Sylvia Park, Remuera, Mt Wellington, St Johns, Orakei and St Heliers should not expect power back tonight.

Retailers were forced to shut up shop, petrol stations cannot pump, traffic lights are out and hospitals and rest homes have been running on back-up generators.

A map of when power is expected to be restored in Auckland suburbs.

A map of when power is expected to be restored in Auckland suburbs. Photo: Auckland Council

Civil Defence is coordinating the city's emergency response, and its controller Clive Manley said at one stage power was cut to about 85,000 properties impacting 180,000 Aucklanders.

"This is quite a heavily populated area and also it's quite a major business area so again tomorrow there will be quite an impact on the businesses."

Prime Minister John Key said the power cuts are significant and he had spoken with the ministers of Civil Defence and Energy.

"We're advising people that have any medical conditions or emergency needs to make sure they contact both Vector and if required to phone 111 and obviously just for people to be extending the hand of friendship to their neighbours, particularly if their neighbours are a little more vulnerable or older."

Civil Defence control room activated

Auckland Civil Defence has activated its control room to support Transpower, Vector and any residents needing help.

Civil Defence controller Clive Manley said people affected by the cut should make sure they have enough supplies to see them through the next few days.

He said people would need lighting, heating, food and a way to cook, as well a way of keeping their cellphones charged if that was their only means of communication.

Mr Manley said anyone who was medically dependent on power, or vulnerable and needing help, should call the Auckland Council call centre, their power retailer, or - in an emergency - 111.

St John Ambulance said it had had to transport a handful of people to hospitals because of the power cuts.

It said about half a dozen patients have been moved after losing power to their home oxygen supplies.

The Mercy Ascot hospitals in Remuera and Epsom are still fully functioning despite being on generator power.

A spokesperson said they were waiting for more information about what may happen tomorrow.

More police deployed, motorists told to take extra care

Police are deploying extra staff throughout Auckland until the power cut is over.

Acting superintendent Jim Wilson said officers from the Counties Manukau and Waitemata districts are prepared to cover the affected parts of the city for the forseeable future.

Mr Wilson said the police were working closely with the Auckland Emergency Co-ordination Centre and other agencies.

He said there would be high visibility patrols, and extra officers in the affected residential and commercial areas.

Police are urging home and business owners to take extra security precautions in cases where alarms have been affected.

The Transport Agency is urging drivers to take care on roads tonight in parts of Auckland affected by the power cut.

Traffic lights are out at more than 100 intersections in One Tree Hill, Epsom, Greenlane, Remuera and Mt Wellington.

A police officer directs traffic at the intersection of Manukau and Greenlane Roads in Epsom.

A police officer directs traffic at the intersection of Manukau and Greenlane Roads in Epsom. Photo: RNZ / Kate Newton

The agency's national travel manager Luigi Cappel said driving conditions will only get worse this evening because there will be poor or no lighting on segments of the motorway and arterial routes.

He said staff would be connecting traffic lights to generators overnight but not all intersections would have power by the morning.

Mr Cappel said people should factor in extra time for the morning commute, or work from home if they can.

Mobile phone network affected

Back-up batteries have been failing on dozens of mobile phone towers in the Auckland suburbs without power.

Vodafone spokesperson Michelle Baguley said its network was severely hit - at one stage nearly 100 towers were affected - but power is gradually being restored.

She said Vodafone had about 45 cell sites within the affected area that had no power and it would be deploying several generators to those sites throughout the night.

Ms Baguley said the generators were being sent from elsewhere in the upper North Island.

Spark said it was monitoring a number of its mobile phone towers and was bringing in generators.

Shopping centre shut down

Westfield, an inner-city shopping precinct in Newmarket was closed on Sunday due to the cut.

The Newmarket Business Association said most of the shopping precinct was in the dark during what was normally one of its busiest days. Its chief executive Mark Knoff-Thomas said it was chaotic for retailers.

The country's biggest shopping centre, Sylvia Park, said it understands it may not have power restored until Tuesday.

The Mt Wellington mall is shut down although the Pak 'n Save supermarket is operating off generators.

The Kiwi Income Property Trust, which owns the complex, said the power cut had caused disruption and profit losses.

A baker at Countdown supermarket in Greenlane said the cut happened just as he and his co-workers were firing up their ovens early this morning.

"They were here at two and then about three thirty is when the power went out, we waited just in case just two, three hours and then after that we had to start chucking everything out - and freezer stuff is all chucked now, it's all gone."

Some petrol stations are also being impacted by the power cut.

A BP spokesperson Jonty Mills said a number of their sites in the area had been shut down and anyone arriving to fill up is being told of what was happening.

Fire in underground cable

Earlier the Fire Service had almost doubled the number of firefighters at the scene to 75 in a bid to put out the fire, which had been burning since about 2am this morning.

Penrose fire

Firefighters at the electricity substation in the Auckland suburb Penrose. Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

A first fire at the site was put out almost immediately, but the second, in an underground oil-filled cable, took longer to extinguish.

The Auckland Fire Service said the fire had spread along a 200 stretch of the cable.

Firefighters had been pumping foam into holes in the ground to try and put out the blaze, but it was a very slow process, Assistant Area Commander Dave Woon said.

"It's a specialist and technical sort of job, the fire is not out, the fire is under control, so there's a bit of smoke issuing from the trench, we're working incrementally with this high expansion foam."