South Australia is enduring a second day of severe weather, after the entire state was left without power overnight. About 80,000 lightning strikes were recorded, some damaging electricity generation facilities, while destructive winds toppled more than 20 transmission towers.
Power was restored to the Adelaide area by 03:00 local time (17:30 GMT) but many remote rural areas remain cut off.
The state premier said it was “an extreme weather event”.
Jay Weatherill compared the storm to Hurricane Sandy which hit New York in 2012.
He said officials in charges of the power grid had told him “any system would not be able to cope with a weather system of this kind”.
“We had winds which were so strong that when they hit power lines they created such energy they were tearing the towers out of the ground.”
‘Apocalyptic’ weather: Hywel Griffith,
While South Australia’s wild weather was widely forecast, no-one could really predict the impact it would have on everyday life.
In Adelaide, commuters were left feeling their way in the dark as the lights went off on their way home. Gridlock followed, as trains and trams came to a standstill.
At the airport, some passengers had to depend on handwritten boarding passes, after power for the printers failed. Some describe the whole experience as “apocalyptic”, while one woman, who was on the operating table in the local hospital and about to undergo surgery, said it was simply “funny”.
What has been predictable is that an extreme weather event has very quickly turned into an Australian political storm, with the state’s dependency on renewable energy now being debated with the full force and bluster of a tornado.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said the storm was a once-in-50-years event.
It is forecasting further heavy rainfall throughout Thursday and into Friday. Further gales of up to 140km/h (87mph) are expected, and flood warnings remain in place.
‘How did this happen?’
Influential South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon has called for a independent inquiry into the “unprecedented” event.
“This is a disgrace. How did this happen? How is an entire state blacked out?” he said.
The Australian Energy Market Operator, which controls the nation’s electricity network, said it was still working to understand the cause of the fault.
It urged Australians to “take care during this outage and to follow the safety advice and guidelines issued by the South Australian government and emergency services”.