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Power restored after island-wide outage

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Standby: Fire trucks were called to the Belco plant following this afternoon’s outage (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Belco restored service to its customers last night after a power outage shut the island down.

Belco apologised to customers for “the inconvenience caused” by what appears to be an equipment fault.

Belco President Wayne Caines said: “I sincerely apologise to our customers for the inconvenience caused by the outage.

“We will be carrying out a root cause analysis on today’s outage and will report on the outcome in due course,” Mr Caines added. “Let me thank our staff at Belco who acted quickly and professionally to ensure that power was restored as quickly and safely as possible.”

The outage began at about 3.20pm following a fault at Belco’s plant on Serpentine Road, and continued into the evening.

By 8pm, 90 per cent of the island had had electricity restored. If any customers remain without power they should call Belco on 955.

Extra police were drafted in yesterday afternoon after the outage at Belco’s Pembroke power plant caused chaos across the island.

Belco have refused to indicate the cause of the fault, but have confirmed that a component faulted in the new North Power Station, “causing heat and smoke“.

It was not clear if this was the cause of the outage or occurred as a result of the incident.

Acting Deputy Commissioner of Police Na’imah Astwood said that officers were being called in to carry out “reassurance patrols” and deter criminals from taking advantage of the blackout.

Ms Astwood said: “Naturally officers will pull together to work to maintain safety within our community.

“We recognise that some businesses are without power, some communities are without power, so we are going to do all we can to have reassurance patrols within those neighbourhoods and also to check on businesses.

“At this time we are trying to bring-in everybody that we can to assist all tonight. As far as the reassurance patrols – yes, for the everyday lay citizen, yes we are trying to put patrols out there so that they can be reassured.

“But, also to others that are using this as a time to look for some criminality to try to deter from doing that right now.”

The power outage is not the first island-wide incident experienced by Belco which had a similar issue in December 2020.

At the time Wayne Caines, the president of Ascendant, described the incident as an “anomaly”, and that while staff continued to investigate the cause of the outage, a recurrence was not expected.

He was quoted at the time as saying: “If you look at the history of the organisation, the organisation has not had an island-wide outage in 15 years.

“We are confident in our systems, we are confident in our employees and we believe that we will have operations as normal.

“We would like to thank the Bermudian public for understanding that this was an anomaly and that we’re treating it as such.”

A redacted report published last summer said main causes of the outage were the failure of an unnamed system and that certain circuit breaker settings were at factory settings instead of recommended settings.

The report said: “Numerous improvements and recommendations have been made to Belco, including a review of the entire new North Power Station commissioning process.”

Many offices and retailers were forced to close early and, with traffic lights out of action early commuter traffic out of Hamilton ground to a standstill. More police officers were called up to direct traffic.

At a press conference, Wayne Caines, the president of Ascendant, the parent company of Belco, repeatedly failed to confirm reports that there had been a fire at the plant.

He also refused to say if the fault had occurred at the plant’s recently built North power station.

Later, Nadir Wade, Belco’s managing director of bulk generation, attempted to clarify the situation, stating: “Concerning reports of a fire at the North Power Station, a component in our generation plant faulted.

“As a result, the heat generated smoke. However, we are not aware of a fire at this time. The Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service were alerted and responded as a caution and as part of our operating procedures.”

Mr Caines also said that restoration efforts had started, but that it was “a balancing act” and he could not say when power would be fully restored

He said “We are full staffed and everyone is at battle stations. Belco staff are working diligently and we should be up in good time.”

We will be carrying out a root cause analysis which will be given to the Regulatory Authority.

“We will leave no stone unturned to make sure we understand how this outage started.

A statement on the company’s website page said: “We are now in an active state of crisis. We will update this page with important information as it becomes available.”

The electricity supplier’s emergency response team was mobilised but there were no reports of any injuries at the plant.

Mr Wade said that a restoration procedure will only begin once all safety checks have been completed and it could be “several hours” before power was restored.

Emergency: Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, Nadir Wade, Belco’s managing director of bulk generation, Wayne Caines, Belco’s president, and Shelly Leman, Belco’s managing director of transmission, distribution and retail, at this afternoon’s press conference (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Michael Weeks, the Minister of National Security, was being kept abreast of developments.

At a 6pm press conference he said that public safety was “key”.

He said: “I implore motorists to stay off the roads to allow emergency vehicles to get online as quickly as possible.”

Mr Weeks also confirmed that members of the Government’s Emergency Measures Organisation had assembled at Belco’s offices.

A police spokesman said: “With traffic lights out due to the island wide power outage police officers are being positioned at major junctions.

“We ask that you exercise patience with officers at these locations as they seek to ensure a smooth flow of traffic in light of the current situation.

“Also, we ask that the public do not call 911 for information on the power outage 911 is for emergency purposes only.”

This afternoon a government spokesman said: “All government offices are closed and the public is encouraged to unplug sensitive equipment. Updates will be made available via the Emergency Broadcast Station at 100.1FM.”

Mr Wade said that King Edward VII Memorial Hospital was not affected by the outage. He urged anyone who needed power at home for medical procedures to go to to the hospital.

A spokeswoman for the Bermuda Hospitals Board, said: “The hospital is functioning normally.

“Patient care at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital was not impacted by the power outage.

“Generator power was switched on and there was no interruption to care. Everything moved to generator power, so we were OK.”

Internet and phones were also put out of action temporarily.

A representative for service provider Digicel said: “It did go down. Our service runs on Belco, but most customers’ networks have come back on fine.”

She said the generators behind the company’s office on Victoria Street had kicked in.

One cashier said: “I’m still able to serve people who can pay in cash, and the buses are still running. People still need to travel.

“If the power stays off, I’ll stay here until the sun goes down.”

A Department of Public Transportation officer confirmed that buses across the island were still running and said he was headed to Dockyard to help co-ordinate services.

Traffic leaving Hamilton was slowed to a crawl in the aftermath of the blackout, with members of the public helping police to direct traffic at some junctions – and police out at others.

About 25 customers were at the Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Queen Street in Hamilton when the outage began.

Mahi Islan, the restaurant’s general manager, said that the lack of a generator will lead to hundreds of dollars of food being wasted, even if power was restored quickly.

He added: “We were preparing all the food for the dinner rush. None of it can be used any more.

“All the chicken in the fryers have to be thrown away, and it would take time to make a new batch, so we are shutting down for the rest of the day.”

On Church Street, a female executive said the suddenness of the power cut and loss of phone service had been “frightening”.

“No one could call and the issue was we didn’t know where some of our staff were. It started in the office with the lights flickering on and off for at least a minute, and then it went out.

“I can see the barriers are up at the car park by City Hall.

At the junction of Par-la-Ville Road and Church Street, a member of staff from the Esso City station was helping to direct traffic where congestion had been particularly bad.

An employee sitting outside the darkened station said: “Like with everywhere, it just randomly went out. The pumps are off, and we’ve got my boy out there directing traffic.”

A Belco worker in front of fire trucks (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

He added: “We’ve still had a couple of people trying to get into the store – including to buy beer.”

The outage brought the official work of the government to an end. Dennis Lister III was speaking on road safety when the lights and microphones in the House of Assembly died at their temporary accommodations in Veritas House.

Courts also closed down abruptly with trials adjourning suddenly.

The outage proved costly for retailers, with some stores shutting early for the day.

Staff at the Treats candy store in the Washington Mall were unable to open the cash register, so customers had to pay for their purchases with exact change.

Owner Ciera Garrafa said that particular section of the mall did not have a generator, so if the outage was to last, she would need to borrow extension cords and fans, to prevent their stock from going stale.

She added: “During the previous big blackout in 2020, the mall was very co-operative and a lot of stores came together to help me, which I was very appreciative of.

“So if this is for a longer period as well, I guess we will have to do the same thing.

“This is a massive inconvenience, especially on a Friday, because our best business days are Fridays and Saturdays.”

Wanda Correia of Dodd’s barber shop, also in the Washington Mall, said that she had finished cutting hair shortly before the power went out, but two clients had to reschedule for next week.

She added: “We were unable to give the client change from the till, but we gave him change from our pocket and will take the money out of the register tomorrow – it is as simple as that.”

Some banks were not seriously impacted.

A spokesman for Butterfield Bank told The Royal Gazette: “Back-up power generation at Butterfield’s offices meant uninterrupted end-of-day processing for our staff, and all our systems are operating normally.

“Power outages and related telecommunications failures are affecting some of our remote ATM locations, however these are coming back online as power is restored.”

The Bank later said it still had some ATMs out of service.

George Dowling III, Mayor of St George, told The Royal Gazette: “Power is out here for the most part and the cell coverage has been hit.

“People are calm – they understand that the whole island is out. But, we all hope we have this situation resolved sooner rather than later.”

How has the outage affected you? E-mail news@royalgazette.com

• Additional reporting by Jonathan Bell, Owain Johnston-Barnes, Stefano Ausenda, Shaun Connolly and Sékou Hendrickson

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Published February 04, 2023 at 8:02 am (Updated February 04, 2023 at 1:41 pm)

Power restored after island-wide outage

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