Brutal time for power network
Workers at Western Power's customer service centre. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian

Huge swaths of the metropolis renowned as the city of lights remained in darkness last night.

Cut by howling winds, many of the arteries charged with carrying Perth's electrical lifeblood still lay tangled and broken yesterday, power lines giving off sparks.

From Geraldton in the north to Manjimup in the south, about 40,000 homes and businesses sat dark and still as night fell.

But on the floor of an open plan office on Wellington Street, in a corporate workspace turned emergency triage room for the worst power outage crisis to hit WA, tired men and women worked into the evening in a battle to help turn the lights back on.

On the wall in Western Power's headquarters building is a numbered gauge, the little black arrow on its face pushed up and over into the red, as far as it will go.

Called the "electrical supply emergency notification", the last time it moved to its maximum rating of four was during the March 2010 hailstorm.

But the company's customer service group manager Gino Giudice said in terms of damage to the grid and the sheer volume of power outages, this week's wild weather had eclipsed the hailstorm.

"It's the most significant and widespread damage to our network from a one-off storm event," he said.

"The hail was a big event but back then we were able to drag in country crews to help. They've got their own battles at the moment."

Inside the beleaguered provider's headquarters, more than 100 customer service operators yesterday sat hunched over their desks, taking fault calls. "On a normal day there would be five people taking fault calls," Mr Giudice said.

Many of the men and women answering the stream of inquiries, such as Golden Bay resident Pauline Burns, themselves had no power at home.

Between lunchtime on Sunday and yesterday evening, Western Power received almost 200,000 calls for assistance from a 300,000sqkm swath of the State criss-crossed with more than 90,000km of power lines. At the peak, more than 170,000 customers were without power.

Mr Giudice said the provider's 2000 technicians had moved quickly to restore power to essential services.

The airport was brought back on line along with 50,000 homes and businesses on Sunday night.

The West Australian

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