Plunged into DARKNESS

PUBLISHED: 11:03 23 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:58 25 August 2010

NEARLY 100,000 homes and businesses were left in the dark for days after an electricity sub station was set alight by vandals causing a massive power cut. On Monday properties across Crayford, Bexleyheath, Erith, Orpington and Dartford were left without

NEARLY 100,000 homes and businesses were left in the dark for days after an electricity sub station was set alight by vandals causing a massive power cut.

On Monday properties across Crayford, Bexleyheath, Erith, Orpington and Dartford were left without electricity after a fire, believed to be arson, in the substation in Central Road, Dartford.

Shops, banks, council offices, post offices and schools were forced to close for days as at the time of going to press power was only to be fully restored today.

Zak Khan, of Elmstead Road, Erith, said: "The power went off at about 1pm. I was in the middle of my birthday celebrations so it was quite annoying. Luckily we have a gas stove so I was able to use matches and get it going.

"I live in a cul-de-sac and everyone kind of gathered outside and they were quite worried about it. There was even talk that it could've been a terrorist attack which was quite funny."

Mr Khan, who works as a sales executive in Sidcup, added: "One of the funniest things was driving around and seeing the traffic lights down - people were driving really manically."

Power at Bexley council offices went down on Monday lunchtime and shoppers at The Mall in Bexleyheath were evacuated.

Sue Wilders, Operations Manager at The Mall in Bexleyheath, said: "Retailers remained within their stores and at 2.45pm approximately 50 per cent of the power returned. This allowed retailers including Boots, Mothercare, Costa, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Holland & Barratt, Clinton Cards and Honey Bee to reopen. Marks & Spencer and BHS were also able to continue trading via back-up generators and ladieswear store, Zero Zero, innovatively decided to bring their shop outdoors to be able to stay open despite a lack of power within their shop unit.

"More than half of The Mall has opened again. We remain in regular contact with EDF Energy and are awaiting further updates on the situation."

Fire crews were called to the substation at 12.38pm and engineers from EDF Energy, which owns the station, worked for two days to restore power.

At the peak of the incident, close to 100,000 customers were without power supplies. By Tuesday morning, engineers managed to restore supplies to about a third of customers and provide temporary supplies to more customers on rotation.

On Tuesday night, EDF engineers restored power to 11,200 customers using generators brought in from as far a-field as Scotland are continuing to work to restore power. Pensioners in the area insisted they were undeterred by the blackout.

Joy Stephens, 84, of Shepherds Lane, Dartford said: "The lights suddenly went out, the TV, fridge and computer. Luckily some friends came over with a campus burner so we are were able to cook a nice supper of soup and tapioca and even had a cup of tea.

"We're coping fine really, it is summer so we don't need any heating and we went to bed early so we didn't need to worry about lighting."

Malcolm Kirkup, of Beechcroft Avenue, Barnehurst, added: "My wife and I are just playing Scrabble to keep us occupied. It's really not too bad. I just feel sorry for people our age who don't have anyone to look after them.

"We have been through a war, so this is nothing new. It doesn't really bother us."

Additional police patrols were implemented and emergency services and hospitals continued as normal, using powerful generators.

A Bexley council spokesperson said: "All council offices and the contact centre in Bexleyheath have been open and staff have continued working to serve the borough and keep essential services running.

"Staff have been paying particular attention to the needs of vulnerable residents."

A spokesperson from the Metropolitan Police said: "All partner agencies are continuing to work together to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Bexley residents.

"Additional police patrols took place last night and will continue until full power is restored across the borough. There has been no increase in road traffic collisions, crime or disorder."

Chief Inspector Peter Ayling of Kent Police said: "We have committed significant resources to investigate the cause of the incident and inquiries are ongoing. It is unclear at this stage whether this was criminal damage or attempted theft of high voltage cable."

An EDF spokesperson said: "Our priority is restoring power to all our customers as quickly as is safely possible, and we continue to work on a full restoration of power supplies. We do appreciate people's patience and apologise to everyone affected."

Call EDF's emergency helpline on 0800 028 0247 for more information.

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