Town blackout after sub station blast

HOMES in an Essex town were preparing for a second morning without power today after a large explosion at an electricity sub station.Yesterday's blast just after 7am in Witham affected more than 10,000 homes and businesses in the town and the surrounding area.

HOMES in an Essex town were preparing for a second morning without power today after a large explosion at an electricity sub station.

Yesterday's blast just after 7am in Witham affected more than 10,000 homes and businesses in the town and the surrounding area.

With about 7,000 customers still without power last night, power firm EDF Energy has pledged to make payments of £100 to businesses and £50 to residents left without electricity for more than 18 hours.

The explosion at the Cut Throat Lane building caused the roof to cave in and a wall was also destroyed.

Staff worked throughout the day to make the sub station safe but the cause has yet to be established.

Traffic chaos also ensued in Witham, as traffic lights were not working putting pedestrians and drivers in danger.

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Ian Cass of the Witham and district chamber of commerce, said trade had been hit hard.

He said: "Every single shop has not done much business because of the lack of power.

"It has also been dangerous for the children who were turned away from school, it was a dangerous situation that they faced as they were no traffic lights in town."

He also complained about a shortage of police officers in the town to cope with the situation.

Marjorie Barnes, of EDF Energy, said their priority was to make the building safe and get power back.

She said: "Work is still continuing at the site and there have also been a number of restorations by re routing supplies and bringing in generators.

"We hope to get more supplies on throughout the evening but unfortunately some customers will be off-supply over night.

"There is nothing to say what has caused it but our first priority is to make the sub station safe and get power back and the next stage will be for us to investigate what has caused this."

Terry Hutton, Witham fire station officer, said there was little they could do at the scene because of the risk of the building collapsing.

He said: "When we arrived we were first on the scene and we could see there had been quite an explosion inside the building.

"The walls had been demolished and the roof had been blown off. There was a small fire inside but due to the possible presence of live electricity and the building being unsafe, I was not prepared to put people in there.

"We zoned the building off because there was a risk of further explosion and the actual fire burnt itself out in about half and hour.

"There were 33,000 volts of incoming supply – not the sort of thing you want to start spraying with water."

A spokeswoman for Essex County Council said the incident had not been dealt with as an "emergency" situation.

She said: "The decision to close a school during an incident such as a power cut, or bad weather, is the responsibility of the headteacher and governors at individual schools.

"Each school in Essex should have its own policy for dealing with incidents, such as this mornings power cut, which will include how and when to send the pupils home."

An Essex Police spokesman said: "We would not have the man power to cover every set out traffic lights in question.

"People seem to drive reasonably carefully and we have not been inundated with crashes. Traffic which is slowed can be a better policeman than us trying to do it manually."

The EDF Energy powercut phone number is 0800 7838838.

Throughout Witham yesterday there were few people who remained unaffected by the early morning explosion.

Many businesses closed while the power was off causing thousands of pounds of lost trade.

Car park attendant Cliff Stanley witnessed the blast from about 100 yards away.

He said: "There was a cloud of black smoke and flames shot out of the roof of the building. There was a 'whoosh' as it happened.

"It looked like a firework display, the flames were going up by 10 to 12 ft and then there were sparks everywhere shooting up.

"I go home at eight o'clock for a cup of tea – there were no lights on and there was a big queue coming out of one of the newsagents. It was very chaotic."

Wendy Harlow, the manager of the Grove shopping centre, said: "Tills were not working and it is also a health and safety issue because of the lack of lighting.

"We have just tried to keep the shops informed as to the situation as to when the power will come back on."

Ozar Memet a café manager in High Street said: "We have been losing a lot of customers who normally come in for breakfast.

"We have no idea when it will come back on, but if it does we will open up again.

Jane Cooper of Donald Freestongreengrocers, said: "We have gone for the Dunkirk spirit and decided to stay open.

"We have battery power for the scales and we are adding up the prices in our heads," she said.

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