Date: Tue, 24 Feb 1998 12:44:41 +1300
Some folk are still in denial: on the TV news last night we watched office workers rather ineffectually loading PCs and office furniture onto trucks, wearing shirts and ties or smart suits - what did they expect? Business as usual?
We also saw footage of road gangs proudly pointing into holes in the ground - the breaks in all of the power lines have now been found. One has been repaired, but it will take at least a week to re-pressurise the gas in the pipeline. The suggestion that the recent exceptionally hot weather had cooked the cables has been discounted after examining the cables.
Courts are sitting in motel rooms. The Port is inactive. Council services are being sustained. A large proportion of NZ retail transactions use EFTPOS, and retailers are using mobile eftpos terminals (battery powered and cellphone linked.) Schools and universities have postponed all service for the duration, putting back their timetables. Hotels have been hit hard (many of the big international hotels in Auckland are without mains power, although some have generators.) Students have been locked out of halls of residence, and those with nowhere else to go are camping in the suburbs.
The political fallout has begun, with the chairman of the board which runs Mercury resigning. (The new chairman was being interviewed on radio: "I'm at [home], I've got power and..." silence - a power cut.) A government enquiry has been announced. Nevertheless, the Mercury line is consistent: this is an incredibly unfortunate coincidence of failures, they were not negligent, this is an Act of God, they are not liable for compensation. Lawyers are advising their clients the same - they have little chance of winning a case for compensation.
A temporary line was arranged (strung across poles downtown) when the second line failed early last week, so there is still some power to the CBD. There have been the first hints that it may take more than a week to bring full power back, with the first line of four at the end of this week. Three weeks has been quoted for full resumption. They seem to need two lines for adequate power, if industrial consumers reduce demand, which was achieved last week.
Presumably because the community is coping, no official State of Emergency has been announced, but Civil Defence are active.
Public Health authorities are forcing food suppliers to close down and dump refrigerated food instead of continuing to trade with fingers crossed.
Parking wardens have been told to back off - they spent the weekend ticketing cars and vans being loaded with files outside office buildings!
There is great concern about the dangers associated with temporary power supplies. The fire brigade are "run ragged" answering false alarms from confused alarm systems and hosing down overheating diesel generators, which aren't designed to be run continuously in unventilated basements. One building was evacuated by firefighters wearing breathing equipment when generator exhaust was piped throughout the building by the ventilation system! Every available generator in this part of the country is thundering away in basements and on pavements throughout the city. Unfortunately, some of them haven't been used for years and aren't reliable.
There is also concern about water supplies failing in highrise buildings as their header tanks empty and the pumps have no power. Some apartment-dwellers are making do with candles but are forced to leave when the water runs out because they can't flush any more.
The Tourism Board is getting calls from overseas operators who think the whole country has closed down.
It now comes to light that a single cable failure would cripple power supplies to all of the North Shore and Northland - much of the area north of Auckland City. Until this week, that had been regarded as the most likely failure.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Wellington's CBD is served by 8 cables, compared with Auckland's 4 cables. It has been suggested that might be explained by (a) the far greater earthquake risk in Wellington (b) Wellington is the Capital and seat of government (c) the network was designed by people who live and work in Wellington!
--------------------------------------------------------- Mark Roberts Kiwiplan Auckland New Zealand firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com ---------------------------------------------------------