Storm blacks out Melbourne resellers

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A sudden storm cut power across a broad swathe of south-eastern Melbourne yesterday, Thursday 20 November, with some resellers and other businesses hamstrung for hours.

A sudden storm cut power across a broad swathe of south-eastern Melbourne yesterday, Thursday 20 November, with some resellers and other businesses hamstrung for hours.

Cameron McIver, marketing manager at peripherals distributor Multimedia Technology, said the wholesaler's Nunawading headquarters lost power shortly after a 'huge storm swept through Melbourne' around 1:30pm on Thursday. 'While we were here we had an absolute downpour about 1:30pm. We lost power from about two to about five p.m. Others copped it much worse than us,' he said.

McIver said the company was able to stay open but almost certainly lost some business due to the loss of the telephones. Multimedia Technology gets nearly all of its orders from resellers by phone. 'We got the telephones going with a back up UPS system there,' he added.

McIver said that the company's website stayed up -- partly because it was not hosted locally. However, some resellers had been hit as well, he said. 'I believe a lot of south-east areas of Melbourne have been affected. I got an email from a customer down there, who had their computers completely fried,' he said.

McIver said the email was from a reseller in the Narre Warren area and it appeared from the content of the email that the customer had no surge protection. Surge protection boxes usually prevented PCs and other IT from being damaged from power current fluctuations. He could not name the reseller as he had double-deleted all that morning's emails and could not remember the company's name, he said.

McIver said the distributor's electricity retailer, AGL, had worked from Thursday afternoon to get the power back up and had emailed all customers this morning, Friday 21 November, confirming the problem had been fixed. It was 'full steam ahead' from nine am, he said.

Alain Grossbard, corporate communications manager for Alinta -- the company responsible for the poles and wires of AGL Retail customers in south-east Melbourne -- said about 20,000 of its customers were affected by the storm. Power fluctuations of more than four seconds tripped a failsafe mechanism on high voltage lines which cut power for safety reasons, he said.

In this case, the outage was caused by lightning. Most customers had their power back on in an hour, he said, but some outages had lasted to 11p.m. 'We had four areas that were longer -- Vermont, Mitcham and Nunawading -- we had five individual faults on high voltage lines [there] that affected about 1000 customers,' Grossbard said. '[Also] there were 400 to 500 customers affected in Moorabbin ... to about 11pm.'

He said all business customers should invest in surge protection and safety switch devices to protect sensitive IT such as PCs and microwave devices. 'When there's an act from God upstairs, like lightning or the elements coming on to high voltage lines and zapping them, we don't have to pay compensation. That's part of regulatory standards. If it comes from a fault, poor maintenance or age, then we do,' Grossbard said.

Richard Carlyon, severe weather forecaster for Victoria at the Bureau of Meteorology, said many businesses would probably have lost power as a result of the heavy, sudden storm. Flash flooding had been experienced as far afield as Dandenong and Pakenham, he said.

Carlyon said some 20mm to 25mm of rain fell at several locations in the south-east, as a result of warm, moist tropical air pushing down the eastern seaboard from northern Australia. 'That's fairly intensive rainfall,' he said. 'It was quite an expansive storm.'

The storm was actually a series of storm cells spread from Deniliquin in southern NSW as far south as Kilmore in Victoria, he said.

Carlyon said humidity in the area had reached 55 percent -- which was very high for the late spring-early summer storm season in Victoria -- but had since dropped back to around 20 percent. No more such storms were expected for the area in the next four or five day weather cycle, he said.



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