Power cut disrupts Masterton firms

CALEB HARRIS AND ANDREA O'NEIL
Last updated 05:00 06/08/2014
Megan Gowans
CALEB HARRIS/FAIRFAX NZ
ON ALERT: Megan Gowans, a cashier at Masterton's Legal Theft clothing store, says shoplifters may have taken advantage of the power outage that cut instore surveillance cameras.

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Shoplifters wooped, cafes turned away customers, and cookies cooled in dormant ovens as a power cut hit Masterton's businesses.

A fire at the Masterton substation cut power to 38,000 people in Wairarapa and Upper Hutt about 1pm yesterday.

A bird's nest was thought to have caused the fire. Power was restored to Upper Hutt at 2pm, but it was not fully restored in Masterton and Carterton until 4pm.

About 6pm, the power went out again in Masterton, affecting about 1200 properties in the south of the city. Powerco was investigating the cause of the fault and working to restore power.

During the earlier outage, four police cars descended on its Queen St shopping area and officers rounded up at least three suspected shoplifters.

An officer at the scene did not believe the group had deliberately used the power cut but Megan Gowans, a cashier at one of the shops affected, Legal Theft clothing store, disagreed.

"There's no power, so there are no [security] cameras working in any of the shops."

She had seen one of the men who was later taken away by police trying to tuck a beanie into his jacket just after the outage.

The normally busy Masterton CBD went quiet as shoppers realised stores could not process eftpos transactions or even open tills.

At the Ten O'clock Cookie Bakery Cafe, power was cut to the ovens, worker Lily Tanner said. Some orders were able to be finished over a gas hob but others had to be postponed. "We haven't been able to cook."

With the cafe able to serve only cash-paying customers with the right change, a line of patrons left once they realised eftpos was down, Tanner said.

The cafe would have to stop serving heated cabinet food once it cooled, losing further sales. Team leader Megan Hannah said the business had lost a lot of trade. "It's pretty dead now - it's usually flowing pretty well."

Martinborough mobile project manager Malcolm Stayner said Transpower was subjecting Wellington to "Third World" conditions and robbing businesses of their profits.

Stayner was unable to fill his car with petrol in Masterton during the power cut, and said it was appalling that thousands of homes and businesses were without power because of one substation failure. "In this day and age you'd expect more redundancy in the system," he said.

A bird's nest in a substation was a foreseeable and preventable problem. "This is Third World infrastructure and service.

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"The economic loss to hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses is unacceptable."

Transpower spokeswoman Rebecca Wilson said there was no way to prevent birds nesting on the substation, although maintenance crews kept an eye out for nests and cleared them.

"It is unfortunately one of those nature things you have to deal with."

The outage was a large one and it would have been unsafe to restore power all in one go, she said. Another reason it took two hours to restore full power was the need to liaise with local lines networks, and to do safety checks.

- The Dominion Post

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