How Did An Entire State Lose Power, And What Happens Next?

Hospitals are on backup generators, but preserve your phone's battery life.

28/09/2016 8:53 PM AEST | Updated 29/09/2016 6:53 AM AEST

Most of regional South Australia will remain without power for another day, after a severe storm swept through and plunged the entire state into darkness on Wednesday.

The power outage was first reported late Wednesday afternoon and as dusk approached the whole of the state was blanketed in darkness.

The local power operator, SA Power Networks, managed to restore metropolitan Adelaide south to Naracoorte and Mount Gambier overnight, as well as Port Lincoln.

However, major centres such as Whyalla and Port Augusta will remain without power for today, at least.

Figures on the SA Power Networks outage site suggested 100,000 customers would remain without power until 6pm on Thursday.

So how exactly did this happen, and what does it mean for residents without back-up power sources and major service providers across the state?


Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said that power transmitters were knocked over, lightning struck a power station and that major infrastructure damage caused an electricity surge.

"The combination of these events has led an electricity surge, across the interconnector which then forced it to shut down as a matter of safety and to protect people and to protect the equipment," Frydenberg told ABC's 730 program.

"So there will be a proper time to look at the causes of what has occurred because it's still, unfortunately, not that clear right now."

South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill told a press conference on Wednesday evening that the system was "protecting itself" and that it could have happened anywhere in the world.

"This is the system protecting itself... by tripping connections in the system and breaking connection with Victoria," he said.

"Once the system is balanced then power is restored."

Weatherill later confirmed that 22 transmission lines were brought down in total, and some other shocking facts about the storm, including:

  • 80,000 lightning strikes were recorded;
  • Winds of up to 125km/hr forecast for South Australia's western coast, with Elliston expected to be the hardest hit region;
  • 19 people have had to be rescued from lifts.


All emergency services have sufficient resources to continue operating across the state and are coordinating with the Red Cross to help those most vulnerable.

"We'll be monitoring as we go through this process to ensure that those resources are supported as much as they possibly can be," said SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens.

"Whilst this is unusual, we are prepared insofar as we should be, and that we are able to take the necessary action to ensure public safety."

Hospitals across the state are running on generators and have confirmed they will be able to treat patients for the next 72 hours without power.

"Hospitals are running on emergency generators at the moment," Weatherill said.


An intense low pressure system is set to hit the state on Thursday, with gale force winds of up to 140kmh in places, the Bureau of Meteorology reports.

Overnight, strong wind gusts were measured across the state; 115 kmh at Ceduna at 12.15 am and 115 kmh at Cummins at 2.58am.

On Thursday, strong winds will travel across the western and central parts of the state, reaching the east by late morning, and bringing wind gusts of up to 120kmh.

Showers are expected to ease on Thursday afternoon, before returning in the evening.


South Australian residents have been warned to stay off the roads and in fact not leave their homes unless it's absolutely unavoidable.

Downtown Adelaide found itself gridlocked on Wednesday afternoon as commuters rushed to get home before the failure of light.

Police direct traffic in Adelaide.

"South Australia Police are asking the community to avoid any travel this evening unless urgent with power disrupted to much of the state," the police said in a statement.

"The community are being asked to remain calm, to avoid leaving their homes if they can and to be patient if on the roads.

"Police are aware that boom gates are down, some train and all tram services are disrupted -- however alternate transport arrangements are being made."

Some people have also reported finding themselves stuck in lifts, like this unfortunate chap at the Channel Ten newsroom in Adelaide.


Authorities have also advised people to preserve their mobile phone batteries so they can remain in contact with loved ones.

So if you're on Facebook or reading this while the power is out, shut off your apps and save the juice.

"Conserve your phone battery if possible and tune in to the state emergency broadcaster, ABC, on a battery powered radio where possible for updates," the police said.

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