A fire that destroyed southern Thinadhoo’s powerhouse this morning has left thousands of people without electricity. Shops ran out of kerosene by evening as hundreds queued up to stock up for lanterns, and the island council is now rationing jet fuel brought in from the airport.
‘Things are very bad. The entire island is dark and it has been raining since evening. Most households are using candles and kerosene lamps,” said Saud Ali, a member of the council.
The fire, which broke out at 2:30am and put out nearly three hours later, destroyed all three generators at the powerhouse. No one was harmed.
Thinadhoo, the capital of Gaaf Dhaal atoll, is home to some 5,000 people.
It is not yet clear what caused flames to break out, said Mohamed Nimal, the managing director of Fenaka, the state-owned utility that runs the Thinadhoo powerhouse. Staff on duty do not think it was an accident, he said.
It could take up to four days to restore power in the island, Nimal said, adding that the fire had caused some MVR22million (US$1.4million) in damages.
The police are now investigating the cause of the fire.
Thinadhoo has water reserves that will last for at least a week, according to the National Disaster Management Center.
The NDMC has said it is awaiting orders from the island council and stands ready to send aid.
Power outage at the regional hospital forced staff to move all patients to one ward this morning. With one person under intensive care, the government brought in a generator to power some parts of the hospital. Full power was restored by evening with the aid of generator donated by a local company.
Schools were also closed for the day.
Telcos Dhiraagu and Ooredoo have also donated power generators. The government is transporting generators from neighbouring islands to restore electricity at the water plant and ATMs.
A resort nearby Amari Havodda has also donated a generators, council member Saud said.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has condemned what it called a slow response by the government. But Saud said Fenaka had responded quite quickly.
The president’s office has pledged to restore power as soon as possible.
Some MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives have been quick to point fingers at the MDP.
Referring to the torching of government buildings in the wake of MDP’s ouster in 2012, Saudhulla Hilmy, who represents Thinadhoo, told the press: “We have noticed that Thinadhoo is prone to fires in the past. Fires were set on February 8, 2012. And again [they] have lit a powerful fire. These flames are stronger than before. I believe this was deliberate, if they did so this is like chopping your own hand off with a machete.”
The police declined to comment, saying the cause of the fire can only be established after an investigation.
Additional writing and reporting by Zaheena Rasheed
Photo from social media