Power concerns for Jo'burg CBD after fire

Johannesburg’s CBD could be without power until late this week, after an underground electrical fire caused a massive shutdown, City Power spokesperson Louis Pieterse said.

“The technicians can’t even enter the tunnel yet—the heat and gases are such that we cannot,” said Pieterse.

“They can’t even assess the damage, so it is difficult to say when supplies will be up ... for the city, maybe late this week,” Pieterse said of plans to get businesses in the country’s economic hub up and running again.

Emergency management services spokesperson Percy Morokane said at least 30 firefighters had worked in toxic smoke, poor ventilation and no visibility from Sunday night, after smoke was spotted billowing out of a manhole on the corner of Loveday and Jeppe streets.

With only short breaks, firemen from Berea Central, Brixton, Fairview and Modderfontein painstakingly sent a type of foam designed to smother electrical fires down the warren of tunnels.

At 11am on Monday, search-and-rescue specialists paired up to trawl the tunnels for undetected sparks or flames, with a medic shadowing them in case they were overcome by the fumes, explained Morokane.

Above ground, businesses in about 40 street blocks were without power and dysfunctional traffic lights set off major congestion and gridlock.

Fire trucks cordoned off streets in the immediately affected area, with metro police spokesperson Edna Mamonyane admitting that the parallel municipal workers’ strike had stripped them of traffic officials to help ease the flow.

“We are definitely not going to deal with the afternoon rush,” said Mamonyane. “We don’t have enough manpower.

“All we can pray for is that we don’t have major accidents and we ask motorists to try to be as patient and accommodating as possible, treating the intersections as four-way stops.”

Ordinarily, privately sponsored pointsmen would have stepped in to help, but the colleagues of two Outsurance pointsmen who were killed in a road accident on Sunday were too traumatised to return to work on Monday, she said.

During the day, senior metro police staffers had placed themselves around the city to help motorists pass non-functioning traffic lights and navigate the municipal workers’ march, but the same could not be promised for the evening.

Many shopkeepers closed up for the day, while others forged ahead, standing outside their cave-like enterprises, with debris strewn by striking municipal workers lining the streets in front of them.

Shop security guards were on high alert, shadowing browsers to prevent shoplifting, and at the First National Bank complex staff milled around the courtyard waiting for news.

Those who had the means used their laptops and cellphones to continue with their work.

The African National Congress said it was able to continue with meetings and core activities even though its Luthuli House headquarters fell within the swathe of buildings with no electricity.

Morokane said a risk assessment showed there would be no danger to residents and businesses in the affected areas, but urged people to stay out of the CBD, if possible, due to the congestion.

Pieterse said City Power would try to reconfigure the network to draw power from other substations, and contractors and suppliers were also being summoned to urgently provide replacements for the damaged cable network, and to arrange for the necessary workforce to install them.

He said critical businesses like clinics should contact them if they needed help with alternate power supplies.—Sapa

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