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South Australia limps back to life as more storms threaten
[SYDNEY] Power was slowly being restored to the state of South Australia on Thursday after "unprecedented" thunderstorms knocked out supply to the entire population.
The blackout caused chaos and widespread damage was reported as authorities warned of more wild weather to come.
State premier Jay Weatherill described the conditions as "unprecedented" and "so extreme that cyclones in Queensland have caused less damage".
"Twenty-three transmission towers have been ripped out of the ground by the force of this storm event," he told Sky News.
"We had 80,000 electricity strikes that hit various pieces of electricity infrastructure." That led to "massive surges in the frequency in the system and what that did is destabilise the system to the point where... it shut itself down to protect the rest of the network."
South Australia - about one and a half times the size of France and with a population of 1.7 million - lost power Wednesday afternoon after severe thunderstorms struck with destructive wind gusts of up to 140 kilometres per hour, torrential rain and large hailstones.
Trees were torn down, roofs ripped out, thousands of homes and business were without power and cars were gridlocked on flooded roads as traffic lights failed.
Mobile phone coverage was also disrupted and the loss of power at pumping stations affected water and sewerage systems, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
"We now have over 90 per cent of power restored to homes," Mr Weatherill said Thursday morning.
However 75,000 homes were still without power and it would take a couple of days to resume services to about 40,000 of them, he added. The other 35,000 were expected to have electricity again later Thursday.
The Bureau of Meteorology termed it a once-in-50-years event but warned of more severe weather and heavy rain as an intense low-pressure system crosses the state Thursday.
Gale-force winds are again predicted to reach speeds of 75 kph and gusts of up to 120 kph with the Eyre peninsula risking gusts up to 140 kph.
Mr Weatherill said there were no reports so far of serious injuries or deaths.
Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said "serious questions" would be raised about how a major state's entire electricity supply could be knocked out by severe weather.
But Mr Weatherill accused Mr Frydenburg of "playing politics" with a crisis and said it could have happened anywhere.
"This would have happened whatever the system looked like in whatever state had this damage occurred in another place," the premier said.