Damage caused by a power surge in Oatlands North and Somerset Heights on the night of Monday 28 January could come to millions, with power expected to be restored some time on Wednesday 30 January. Residents affected described the incident as “like a war” as appliances exploded, burst into flames and thick, acrid smoke filled homes.
Ward 4 councillor Brian Fargher, who visited several residents after the incident, said the information he’d received was that an earthing bar in the Wincanton Road substation had been removed and cut into pieces. Earthing bars, made of copper, provide a common earthing point for electrical installations.
Information shared by Fargher was that at the time of the incident, around 10pm, one resident measured 416 volts coming through the network. Home appliances are designed for the 230 volts standard for the domestic supply.
Describing the incident, Somerset Heights resident, Tim Bull, said first the power went out in his neighbourhood, and then the surge incinerated his entire electrical distribution board.
“Luckily it happened while I was home and awake – so I grabbed towels to smother the flames leaping towards the ceiling and illuminating my kitchen,” he posted on Facebook.
“Without quick action my house would have burnt.”
Les Reynolds said he’d reached out to put on the bedside light around 9.30pm to look for something in the cupboard. When it burst, he blamed the bulb – but as he left to look for a replacement, all hell broke loose.
“The whole bathroom lit up and then every appliance in the house just blew up. The TV exploded and glass shattered everywhere.”
Reynolds ran to the kitchen where he smelt burning and found the cables at the back of the chest freezer on fire.
“Fortunately we keep a fire extinguisher in the house – but it left a huge mess in the kitchen.”
Reynolds reckons dozens of homes were likely to have been affected, but said, “We don’t know how badly we were affected – there’s no power so we can’t test anything.
“It was terrible. It was like a war. “The scary part is if we weren’t here, the house would have burnt down.”
The house still smelled of the thick, acrid smoke that filled the air during the incident.
“Something like this shouldn’t happen,” said Reynolds. “The substations should be maintained and secured. There are no fences or gates around them and they’re an easy target for thieves.”
Fargher said residents across Somerset Heights and Oatlands North, including in Winsford, Highbridge and Willeton roads, had been hit by the surge. So had the Villa D’ Este complex.
Municipal Manager Moppo Mene told Grocott’s Mail that Makana’s senior electrical technicians had been asked to provide a list of what needed to be replaced in order for power to be restored, along with the cost. They are doing that today,” he said around midday Tuesday. “We are doing everything we can not to prolong the outage.”
Residents reported power returning to their homes around 4.30pm on Tuesday 29 January.
“The electricians – both municipal and private – did a great job of restoring our electricity,” Reynolds said last night. “We’re very grateful to all of them.”
This is the second power surge in recent months to cause massive damage in homes in Makhanda (Grahamstown). Residents in Trotter Street also lost dozens of appliances in a surge in April last year, with vandalism to the substation serving the area the cause.
Mene said co-operation among residents was the key to solving vandalism. “The best security is always communities,” Mene said.
Speaking of vandalism of community assets in general, he said, “You expect communities to keep watch and not to vandalise such important assets that are theirs. Taxpayers’ money paid for these assets and the money to replace them will be the same thing taxpayers’ money that could have been used for something else instead.”
Mene said they would be looking at security measures.
“There are a number of options we can look at – warm bodies, security cameras, so there isn’t [prolonged]inconvenience to our communities.”
Police spokesperson Captain Mali Govender confirmed on Tuesday that a case had been opened and registered and that forensic experts had been dispatched to the substation.