An Australian state about one and a half times the size of France has been plunged into darkness after a massive storm led to power being cut off, agencies report.More than 1.6 million people had no electricity after South Australia experienced unexpectedly high winds and heavy rain.
A crucial piece of infrastructure called a transmission tower is understood to have shut down as the system sought to protect itself, according to state premier Jay Weatherill. TV pictures showed police using illuminated batons to direct cars and lifts being prised open by firefighters to release the people trapped inside.
Trees were torn down, roofs ripped off and hospitals were said to be running on back-up power. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said the storm was one of the most intense storms to hit the state in recent years. Winds of up to 60mph (100kph) are still affecting the area and up to four inches (10cm) of rain was forecast to fall.
It was expected to take several more hours before the power comes back on. Some blamed the outage on the state’s move to get its energy supplies from mainly renewable sources, but Premier Weatherill said energy generation “assets remain intact”.
Officials did admit however that the closure of a coal-fired power station had left the state with no back up. Federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg told Sky News Australia that “serious questions” would have to be answered about how a state’s entire electricity supply could be knocked out by the weather.
Police warned people to stay indoors until the weather calms down. South Australia’s police commissioner, Grant Stevens, said: “It is essential that people stay off the road unless it’s absolutely critical that they travel.
“We do have significant outages of traffic signals and there is an additional risk to using the road network, particularly associated with the severe weather environment that we’re experiencing at the moment.”