Lightning nails tower

Commerce ground to a screeching halt on Grand Cayman yesterday when lightning struck a 140-foot tower at CUC.

CUC on North Sound Road

The 140ft exhaust stack, which took a direct hit at Caribbean Utility Companys plant on North Sound Road and set off a chain reaction resulting in yesterdays island-wide outage. Photo: Jewel Levy

An automatic island-wide cascade of power outages began immediately around 11.22am. Power was restored to the Caymanian Compass and surrounding establishments around 1.50pm.

The outage occurred when a 140-foot exhaust stack at the Caribbean Utilities Company plant on North Sound Road took a direct hit. Linked to Engine Room 5, the company’s newest and largest engine room, the hit to the stack knocked out the programmable controls for three of the company’s biggest generating units. These in total harness a combined generating capacity of 36 mega watts.

According to Caren Thompson, the company’s manager of corporate communications, the power surge caused a cascade effect throughout the system, which automatically shut down the power plant capacity in a controlled manner.

She also advised that at around 1.30pm, one of the three largest generating units had been re-energised and auxiliary equipment was being reactivated to allow the restoration process to begin.

Ms Thompson confirmed that the airport and hospitals were the first customers to be re-energised and anticipated that that would occur at around 2.30pm.

She further advised that the process would continue in a systematic manner until full restoration of service was provided to all other customers.

At 2pm, Ms Thompson informed the Caymanian Compass that she was cautiously optimistic that service would be restored to remaining customers by 4pm, barring further problems developing to the system.

The company’s spokesperson then advised that CUC had suffered a second lightning strike in the South Sound area. She added that utility company crews were in that area checking power lines leading to the South Sound substation and were conducting similar checks in the Walkers Road and Crewe Road vicinity.

The last power outage of a similar magnitude was in last summer.

While many businesses foundered in the dark with employees unable to do work, not all suffered because many have been outfitted with generators.

Shoppers were able to buy groceries and lunch at Fosters at the Airport while Hurley’s customers had to stand outside waiting for power to be restored before they could commence shopping.

None of the flights in and out of Owen Roberts International Airport were delayed or cancelled because of the island-wide outage.

Visitors and patients to the island’s two hospitals didn’t know there was a power issue unless they were asked or told. Generators kept things going smoothly.

At Cayman Islands Hospital, the generator was able to power all essential patient services, including surgery, said Caswell Walford, public relations officer.

‘The patients won’t really notice much of a difference since there was electricity for these essential services,’ he said at the height of the outage.

At Chrissie Tomlinson Memorial Hospital there was no interruption of services, said Dr. Steve Tomlinson. The generator there is able to power all the hospital’s services.

‘Everything is functioning as it should. Nothing is affected. We’re doing well. Even surgery is going on,’ he said.

Tourist resorts such as The Marriott Beach Resort, Morritt’s Tortuga and The Westin Casuarina Resort also ran on emergency generators.

Just because yesterday’s outage is over for most, no one should get complacent.

Chief Meteorologist Fred Sambula said the lightning strike is a regular feature of the typical storm activity that can be expected this time of year.

He said there is a lot of energy in the atmosphere in the tropics, particularly in the afternoons.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police said they had been notified of no serious incidents during the outage.

There had been some traffic difficulties at road junctions usually controlled by traffic lights because the lights had gone out.