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Lightning cuts Croker communications

19 February 2016

IMG_0028-01 WARC IT Coordinator Greg Ward, Council Services Manager at Minjilang Trent Marshall and Broadcasting Officer Matthew Ngarlbin Cooper show where the lightning hit on Thursday 11 February, knocking out communications on Croker Island.

A lightning strike at Minjilang has put radio and communication lines out of action, cutting off the island community for several days.

West Arnhem Regional Council Services Manager Trent Marshall said the thunderbolt caused major damage when it struck a communications tower next to the WARC building at about 1.30am Thursday 11 February.

"Everybody in town woke up when it hit - it was a massive strike," Mr Marshall said.

The force of the lightning was so great that it threw pieces of equipment across the room inside the WARC office, scorched electronics, and blew open metal sheeting around a meter box on an outside wall.

The surge of current destroyed telephone and fax equipment, not only at the Council office, but also at the health clinic more than 100 metres away.

Croker Island's radio transmitter - which broadcasts local and ABC, Top End and local radio programs from the WARC office - was also put out of action, as was the Council's computer-controlled fuel purchasing system on the other side of town.

"The job centre lost its fax connection, the store lost its ATM, and many families lost their phone lines at home," Mr Marshall said.

"WARC is prioritising repairs and moving rapidly to get communications back online.

"The first thing we did was bring in a team of electricians to do a safety inspection throughout the building, as the strike has blown powerpoints and switches apart."

The thunderbolt also blew transformers completely off the back of fluorescent light fittings, he said.

"After the building was rendered safe, Telstra came out and did all they could to get phone lines operating again."

IMG_0019 The force of the lightning blew this lead sheeting away from the wall at the Council office.

WARC moved quickly to re-establish telephone connections in the Centrelink office, which Council operates under a contract.

"A number of families here are reliant on Centrelink to help meet their basic needs," Mr Marshall said.

"We have been able to talk to Centrelink and they are aware of the situation here."

WARC IT Coordinator Greg Ward flew to Croker Island  to find all the computers in the office fried.

"We've managed to get two phones and an internet connection working, but all the computers and printers are dead, along with our office telephone system," he told The Wire on Wednesday 17 February.

Technicians from TEABBA Top End Bush Radio were on the island by Wednesday to replace damaged transmitters.

ABC and TEABBA broadcasts have now been restored, with damage to the local studio broadcasting equipment still undergoing repairs.

A bolt of lightning can strike at several hundred million volts, generating electrical currents of around 10,000 amps.

Monster strikes of one billion volts and more than 100,000 amperes have also been recorded.

In comparison, household circuit breakers shut off at around 8 to 30 amps.

IMG_0042 Matthew Cooper testing the computer-controlled fuel purchasing system on Croker Island.


IMG_0023 IT Coordinator Greg Ward makes running repairs to the office network.