Some 160,000 households in New Territories West were plunged into darkness on Tuesday evening, after a fire broke out on a power cable bridge in Long Ping causing power outages. The blackout led to the suspension of some trains and impacted services at three hospitals in the area. Classes at 14 nearby schools were suspended on Wednesday.

The power supply to all affected areas had been restored by 8 a.m. on Wednesday, a government official said, adding that the HK$150 million emergency alert system was not activated because only “some areas” of the city were affected.

A cable bridge located at Long Ping was damaged by the fire on Tuesday night. Photo: Supplied.

Managed by CLP Power – which provides electricity to New Territories and Kowloon – the cable bridge caught fire at around 7:10 p.m. on Tuesday, according to a statement from the power supplier.

CLP Power said in the statement that three cables supplying power to Yuen Long, Tin Shui Wai and Tuen Mun were damaged and around 160,000 customers were affected.

A representative from the Fire Services Department (FSD) met the press with Chief Corporate Development Officer of CLP Power Quince Chong in the early hours of Wednesday morning. A total of 47 firefighters and rescuers, as well as 15 vehicles, had been deployed to the scene. The fire was mostly extinguished by 9:00 p.m., the FSD spokesperson said.

Between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., the FSD spokesperson said the department had received 81 reports of people being trapped in elevators.

Train services between Tsuen Wan West and Tuen Mun were suspended and the Tin Shui Wai MTR station was closed because of the power outage. MTR services were gradually restored at around 8 p.m., Ming Pao reported.

Tin Shui Wai saw blackouts on Tuesday evening. Photo: Supplied.

The Hospital Authority told local media that some patients had to be transferred from Tuen Mun Hospital, Pok Oi Hospital and Tin Shui Wai Hospital, which had been affected by the lack of power.

Accident and Emergency services at the three hospitals were unaffected, as were their emergency medical appliances and Covid-19 isolation wards, according to the Hospital Authority.

Appearing alongside the FSD representative, CLP Power’s Chong said that the company had restored the power supply to around 140,000 households by around 11:30 p.m. Despite saying that the remaining 20,000 households might have to last without power for two more working days, the company said on Wednesday that power had been restored to all those affected.

The government issued a press release shortly before 2 a.m. saying that it was “very concerned” about the incident and that “various government bureaux and departments have responded proactively and tried their best to maintain law and order, medical and other emergency services, and assist residents in need.”

‘Some areas’

The Under Secretary for the Environment Tse Chin-wan, Chong, and staff from the Environment Bureau, Electrical and Mechanical Services Department as well as CLP Power inspected the damaged cable bridge on Wednesday morning.

Under Secretary for Environment Tse Chin Wan meets the press after inspecting the concerned cable bridge on Wednesday morning. Photo: RTHK, via screenshot.

After the inspection, Tse told reporters that the government apologised for the inconvenience experienced by affected citizens, adding that the electricity supply to all affected areas had been restored by around 8 a.m.

Tse said CLP Power would be given three days to produce a preliminary report, while a detailed account would have to be submitted within two weeks to suggest how similar incidents can be prevented in the future.

When asked why the government did not use its HK$150 million Emergency Alert System to notify the public of the power outage, Tse said the system would only be activated when there was an emergency situation affecting all Hong Kong citizens.

“This time [it only occurred] in some areas, so [we] didn’t use it.” Tse said.

Meanwhile, Eric Cheung, the senior director of power systems at CLP Power urged residents in the area to be mindful of their power usage as “it will take a few days” for the security of electricity supply to resume.

Cheung added that it had been a “very rare” occurrence, as all three power cables had been damaged. Normally, if one were damaged, the other two would act as backup.

‘Deeply regret’

Lawmaker Lau Kwok-fan, who was elected in the New Territories North geographical constituency, told HKFP that the government should have used the emergency alert system.

“We spent so much money and tens of thousands of people were affected, but [the government] still didn’t use [the alert system],” Lau said.

Tin Shui Wai was in a blackout on Tuesday evening. Photo: Supplied.

Many residents told Lau that the mobile data had been inaccessible in the early moments of the blackout. “When people were unable to receive messages, that was when there was most need to deploy the [alert] system,” he said.

Winnie, a resident of Tin Fu Court in Tin Shui Wai, told HKFP that the housing estate was not only affected by the blackout, but also that the water supply was cut.

The 22-year-old university student said she arrived at Tin Shui Wai at around 10 p.m., and saw many people wandering around or staying “where the lights’ were still on.” Some appeared to be sleeping in a nearby park, she said.

Around midnight, Winnie said she climbed more that 30 storeys of stairs to get home after seeing the buildings in neighbouring estates light up one by one. “I was thinking I might only need to wait for a few hours for powers to turn back on,” she said.

However, only the emergency lights in her building’s corridors were on, and she soon learnt from news reports that power supply would only be restored to her estate “in two days.” Winnie ended up spending the night at a friend’s place. Winnie told HKFP she was unsure if the power supply had resumed at home, because she had not been back.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.