At least 31,500 homes and businesses were without power in the Perth Hills, Wheatbelt, Goldfields and Great Southern regions of Western Australia after severe thunderstorms lashed the area and Western Power struggled to restore major outages across a significant proportion of its network.
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services said outages in the Wheatbelt and Goldfields were impacting the power supply, water supply, telephone services, internet connection, fuel stations and retail outlets, and that residents should be prepared for the power outages to last up to seven days.
Australia seeing some of its worst lightning storms this summer, with South-east Queensland being hit by more than 3.5 million lightning strikes in only three weeks, compared to just 38,000 strikes at the same time last year. While Perth recorded 18,000 lightning strikes in one morning. Now more than ever is the time to ensure residents are prepared for outages with generators and battery-powered items like lanterns, torches, fans, and portable power banks to charge phones in case of an emergency.
The West reported that generators were flying off the shelves, with residents throwing out hundreds of dollars’ worth of food and, in a worrying sign of the state of telco infrastructure in Western Australia, some Wheatbelt residents were unable to call triple-0 for several days. Amid the chaos, however, fuel quickly became unavailable in Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie due to the power outage — fuel used to run back-up generators.
Camping and hardware stores in the area have reported a spike in sales, with several sold each day since Tuesday 16th January.
Bencubbin resident Ann Tuppen said she was without power and phone service from about 5 pm on Tuesday.
“We were lent a generator by a local farmer, that has been powering the fridge and fan (and) that hooked us up to the internet,” Ms Tuppen said.
She said the only store in town had no EFTPOS operating due to the network outages and was cash only, meaning the fuel to run the many generators being bought up also needed to be paid in cash.
Ms Tuppen said she loved living in the region but said the woeful and slow response from emergency services and utilities had left her in disbelief. Particularly concerning, was that residents could not call triple-0 for any emergencies.
“From a health point of view, especially for the elderly, it can be pretty bad if you cannot get through to triple-0,” she said.
“It has been awful. It is amazing how much you rely on our phones. From now on I will definitely have a generator spare, and some spare fuel.”
The community has been amazing at rallying to support each other during the extreme outages Ms Tuppen added.
“The farmers who have fuel stores have been running around offering fuel to everyone,” she said.
Emergency Services Minister Stephen Dawson said it was extremely concerning there were still several isolated communities without access to the triple-0 service, but police, Western Power, and DFES were working to restore the call lines.
Western Power on Thursday 18th said it could not deploy its own network generators until crews had “responded to all hazards and made (it) safe” however.
“The damage we are seeing is widespread and generators will only help very small pockets. We are assessing where and when they can be used to ensure maximum community benefit,” Western Power said.