Military on high alert over 5-hour blackout
Published on May 27, 2008, 12:00 am
By Standard Team
The five-hour power blackout that plunged the country into darkness on Sunday night may have caused more panic across the country than the Government is willing to admit.
Last evening, a parliamentary committee summoned Energy minister, Mr Kiraitu Murungi, to explain the matter, even as information indicated that all security forces had been put on high alert to deal with any eventuality.
Police Spokesman, Mr Eric Kiraithe, said all police divisions countrywide were on standby to avert crime as a result of darkness.
And unconfirmed reports indicated that the military, too, was equally on high alert, a report its spokesman, Mr Bogita Ongeri, dismissed.
However, Ongeri said the military resorted to automatic power generators during the blackout and that life generally “went on as usual”.
Sources told The Standard that police communication in some areas was affected by the blackout.
None of the police buildings countrywide have generators except Vigilance House, the police headquarters, and a few other facilities.
The Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) Managing Director, Mr Joseph Njoroge, apologised to the nation and said investigation would be carried out to establish the cause of the fault.
Most towns, including Mombasa, Eldoret, Nakuru, Naivasha, Kisumu, Nyeri and Kakamega, were affected by the power blackout that started at 5pm and lasted way into the night.
The Standard newsroom was inundated with callers seeking to know what the problem was.
Sources also said flights were delayed from landing or taking off at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Mombasa’s Moi International Airport for a while.
At JKIA, officials were on high alert and the airport depended on standby generators. Flights scheduled to take off at 7pm were delayed due to the blackout.
And at the country’s largest referral hospital — Kenyatta National Hospital — the generator was only able to light up specific areas considered critical.
The elevators were not functional for the whole duration and some patients being transferred from one area to another got stuck.
“The elevators were not working and patients who were to be moved, say from the wards to the theatres or vice versa, could not be transferred. They had to wait until the power returned late in the night,” said an employee who sought anonymity.
However, theatres and incubators were not affected because they rely on standby generators. No deaths were reported.
However, the employee said the power blackout caused panic at the hospital, adding that it would have been disastrous at the referral hospital had it continued.
An unknown object that interfered with the main Kamburu power sub-station is said to have triggered the power outage.
According to KPLC, the 5.30pm incident, that led to automatic switch off of the transformer at the sub-station, had a knock-on-effect on all major power sub-station across the country leading t the blackout.
KPLC said the transformer went off immediately it failed to receive power from the Seven Forks hydropower stations, where the Kamburu sub-station in directly connected.
The sub-station receives power generated at Masinga, Kamburu, Gitaru, Kindaruma and Kiambere power stations before it is released to the national grid.
The Kenya Electricity Generating Company (KenGen), however, attributed the blackout to a transmission problem, saying the company had nothing to do with the power outage.
“Any problem in power generation, which forces a shut down of a generator, would not result in such a massive blackout,” the company spokesman, Mr Mike Njeru, said.
He said transmission lines such as the one which caused the blackout normally carry massive amounts of power — from different sources — which if affected could trigger a series of shut downs of machines to save them from destruction.
A senior official at KPLC explained that something might have passed through the transmission wires, causing a short circuit that triggered the blackout.
“The problem was a transient fault, which meant that there was no damage on transmission equipment, but it was a normal short circuit,” the official explained.
He said the damage was not permanent and the reason KPLC was able to restore immediate normalcy after thoroughly checking the equipment.
He said the power system serving the country is interconnected and any drop in voltage below the desired level results in automatic switch off of transformers of sub-stations at the Coast, Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western provinces.
Although electricity is also generated at Kipevu in Mombasa, Turkwel in Pokot, Olkaria Geothermal stations and other small hydropower stations spread across the country, the low voltage then could not meet the demand.
KPLC says due to cost implications, Kipevu and other power generating stations were operating below capacity, leaving hydropower stations to supply the bulk of the power.
The system experienced a similar situation 14 years ago when a bird was trapped in the transmission lines, causing a short-circuit that caused a massive blackout.
Several buildings in Nairobi’s city centre have automatic generators.
In Nyanza the blackout affected businesses, including hospitals. The Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company commercial manager, Mr William Mboya, said the blackout interrupted water supply in the town.
Doctors at Government and private hospitals in the province said they had to switch on generators to save lives.
“Lives could have been lost if we didn’t have a generator. Some patients were in theatre, but luckily our generator switched on automatically,” said a doctor at the Nyanza Provincial General Hospital, who asked not to be named.
However, Kisumu OCPD, Mr Simon Kiragu, said no crimes were reported as a result of the problem.
In Eldoret, the blackout lasted six hours and interrupted business in the town. It affected hospitals, businesses and even TV stations which were unable to transmit broadcasts.
Universities, whose students are sitting end-of-semester examinations, were also affected.
“We were unable to revise for yesterday (Monday) exams because there was no power,” said Mr Willy Kibet, a student at Moi University.
Hotels and other entertainment spots complained of losses as patrons stayed away.
“We had to close because the whole town was deserted,” said Mr Joseph Situma, a manager at a social joint.
Cybercafe operators also said they had incurred losses as a result of the blackout.
“Most people normally browse on Sunday afternoons. But because of the blackout, we had no customers,” said Ms Vivian Cherop.
In the estates, posho mills could not operate, while hair salons and barber shops reported losses.
Reports by Martin Mutua, Benson Kathuri, Vincent Bartoo and John Oywa