Underground fire brings Jo'burg CBD to standstill

Firemen managed to stop an underground power-cable fire in downtown Johannesburg by mid-morning on Monday, emergency services said.

Meanwhile, urgent plans were under way to order new cables and feed in power from neighbouring substations to get businesses in the country’s economic hub up and running as quickly as possible.

Spokesperson Percy Morokane said at least 30 firefighters worked through 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 about 11am 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 fumes, explained Morokane.

Above ground, businesses in about 40 street blocks were without power, and dysfunctional traffic lights set off a morning of traffic jams, compounded by the forced closure of parts of Harrison, Bree, Loveday and Jeppe streets due to the fire.

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 severe congestion..

Meanwhile, City Power set about trying to find “quite a few thousand” megawatts of power to supply to its customers.

Spokesperson Louis Pieterse said it was urgently trying to reconfigure the network so that power could be drawn from adjacent substations.

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 City Power if they needed help with alternate power supplies.

He hoped power would start picking up later on Monday, but feared some businesses might be in the dark for the rest of the week.—Sapa

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