Ashburton power outage remains a mystery

By Myles Hume of the Ashburton Guardian

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Mystery surrounds what caused a power outage that left two thirds of urban Ashburton in the dark on Tuesday night.

Local electricity company EA Networks said the outage that left most of the town in darkness occurred at 10.17pm with homes in Tinwald, Allenton, the town centre and parts of Fairton reported to have had no power.

Streets through town were pitch black, mainly along West Street, however pockets across town managed to stay alight.

The power was restored about 35 minutes after the outage at 10.50pm, however EA Networks operations manager Ken Stirling said it was unknown what caused the "unusual" widespread outage.

"The guys carried out a number of inspections but couldn't find anything and at this stage we really don't know anymore details," Mr Stirling said.

Ashburton residents had already experienced power cuts in June, July and November last year, and it was already the first power cut of 2013.

Although EA Networks could not "pin point" the fault, Mr Stirling suspected it was linked to the strong winds on Tuesday night that may have pushed something into the power lines.

The company's employees worked frantically at the Ashburton Sub Station following the outage, putting power on in half of the affected homes and later putting on the remainder.

"At the end of the day we put it back on and it stayed on but it does remain a bit of a mystery," he said.

An investigation into the cause of the outage will be conducted today.

Ashburton Hospital was not affected by the outage despite homes surrounding the facility having no power.

A spokesperson said their generator system kicked in whenever there was a power cut and it was business as usual.

With power outages bringing businesses to a stand still in the past, having to close as they lost power and internet, many businesses were already closed thanks to the fortune of it being a statutory holiday and also due to the outage occurring at night.

However, McDonald's Ashburton was one of the rare businesses operating and had to close its doors to customers following the cut; their fryers, tills and stoves were all out of action.

Shift manager Sam Banks said the food outlet reopened its doors just before 11pm, however the six workers rostered on had to re-cook all the food as part of health and safety regulations.

"It's a bit of a hassle but never mind these things happen and we can't help these things," he said.

Amidst the wild weather, police warned the public last night to steer away from the swollen Rangitata and Rakaia Rivers.

The Rakaia River had overflown on to State Highway 72 on the north side of the river near the Rakaia Gorge Bridge and more heavy rain is expected.

Mt Hutt summit had experienced wind gusts reaching a staggering 200km/h, while Ashburton was buffered by 85km/h gusts on Tuesday night.

"If travel is absolutely necessary police urge road users to drive to the conditions," Acting Inspector Paul Reeves said.

People in the Rakaia huts and low lying areas were also advised to evacuate the areas until the river subsides.

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