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Friday, March 20, 1998 Published at 08:05 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Auckland blackout sparks people power
image: [ Protesters want power...electricity and influence ]
Protesters want power...electricity and influence

One month after an electricity failure caused a city-wide blackout, Auckland is operating on 40% power.

It could be another two months before full services are returned, according to a BBC Correspondent.

[ image: Auckland's skyline...all black]
Auckland's skyline...all black
The power failure, which was caused when all four main cables which supply New Zealand's biggest city and commercial heart all stopped operating, has led to street demonstrations.

Angry protesters affected by the power cuts are demanding more say and greater accountability from electricity companies.

Retailers and restaurant owners say trade has dropped by 90%.

Businesses bankrupted

BBC Correspondent Michael Peschardt says some people blame the local power company (0'18")
Some businesses have already gone bankrupt and others have relocated to suburban homes to keep trading.

Areas are still in darkness and shoppers are afraid to venture into the city for fear of crime.

The approach of winter is also reported to have contributed to people's anger.

Since last week, late summer temperatures around Auckland have dropped.

As a result, there has been less demand for air conditioning in the city's 120 downtown blocks stricken by blackouts and power shortages since the last of the four power cables failed on February 20.

The first cable failed on January 22.

More warnings of power cuts

[ image: Fear of crime means candle light has lost its romance]
Fear of crime means candle light has lost its romance
However, the company which supplies the electricity, Mercury Energy, is reportedly still worried about possible warmer weather or equipment breakdowns.

It has warned that afternoon power cuts are likely if temperatures rise.

"A warmer day will be a real test on the central city's ability to save power. That test has still to come," said Patrick Strange, Mercury Energy's planning director.

[ image: Engineers are working round the clock...but it is not enough]
Engineers are working round the clock...but it is not enough
The company has announced a compensation package for customers hit by the massive black out.

At its height, the blackout affected more than 8,500 businesses employing almost 74,000 people, and some 6,230 apartment dwellers.

City centre businesses estimate their collective losses at $60m a week, not including long-term losses in tourism or international investment and trade.

Cause still a mystery

Most street-level shops in the centre reopened earlier this week.

According to reports, the area appeared almost normal, except for electric generators squatting on pavements ready to be restarted in case of another power failure.

More power is coming from a cargo ship anchored in the harbour.

New Zealand's High Court, which had been hearing cases in temporary courtrooms, including a church crypt and a race course, also returned to its original building.

It is not known what caused the power cables to fail. A commission of experts says it may take up to a year to find out.

The government has also set up its own inquiry which is due to report by the end of June.

Mercury Energy has suggested the cables broke down as a result of the heat and huge power demand.

But critics and demonstrators claim the company has been ignoring vital maintenance work to increase profitability.

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  Internet Links

Mercury Energy - Power Restoration Information

Auckland - official site

Discover New Zealand - online magazine

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