“The biggest blackout in history”

Power company Sydkraft announced on Tuesday that 34,000 of its customers are still without electricity, ten days after Hurricane Gudrun lashed southern Sweden with winds of up to 150km/h.

“Right now, Sweden is experiencing the biggest blackout in history,” said the company in a press release. 16,000 households in the Kronoberg area and 6,000 in Jönköping are cut off, and Sydkraft said it expects 22,000 customers to remain without power for some time to come.

“We’re talking several weeks before everyone gets power back,” said Jan-Erik Olsson, head of information at Sydkraft.

He told Dagens Nyheter that 1,140 kilometres of cable is damaged and needs to be replaced entirely. As well as trees blowing onto the wires, many pylons themselves blew over in the hurricane.

The company is rewiring the network above ground as a “temporary solution”, before burying new cables permanently.

The council in Kronoberg, which is the worst-affected area, described the situation as “under control” but the costs of the storm have been significant, in both human and economic terms.

Eleven people have been confirmed dead as a direct consequence of the hurricane. Three of them were in the Kronoberg district and of those, two were hit by falling trees when they got out of their vehicles.

Four died in Skåne, including two who were in a car which was crushed by a falling tree and one man who fell from a ladder as he was trying to fasten tiles on his roof.

A further two died in Kalmar, one of whom was run over as he tried to clear away fallen trees outside his property.

According to Svenska Dagbladet, it became clear last Friday that four farmers had committed suicide “after their life’s work and economic security was destroyed by the storm”.

Now, the Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF) is taking the psychological impact of the hurricane seriously and has set up a number of telephone support lines to allow members to speak to doctors and psychologists 24 hours a day.

“There has been an incredible demand for both practical and psychological help,” said LRF spokesman Lena Johansson.

The organisation has also set up a helpline for farmers and forest owners with economic questions, but Lena Johansson explained that the immediate need was for emotional support.

“It’s not unusual for a farm to get 50% of its income from the forest – and only 25% of all the forest in the area is insured against storm damage,” she said.

“So you can imagine how it feels when it’s destroyed in this way.”

Overall, the economic cost of the storm to Sweden will run to billions of crowns. 75 million cubic metres of forestry was ruined, equivalent to an entire annual harvest.

Tuesday’s Aftonbladet reported the government is now hoping for assistance from the EU’s “solidarity fund”, which provides financial support to member states which have been hit by natural disasters.

The paper said that government officials are currently trying to calculate the total cost of the damage in order to submit a claim before the deadline, which is ten weeks after the incident.

“Extraordinary measures are required and we’re going to take any support that’s available,” said Christer Segerstéen, chairman of the forest owners section of the Federation of Swedish Farmers.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet