Cape Town - Newspaper House, the home of Independent Newspapers including IOL’s Cape Town staff, was evacuated on Sunday after a vehicle hit a water pipe in the basement, causing a flood which damaged an electrical substation.
The incident, which occurred shortly after 9am, resulted in electricity being cut in surrounding city centre buildings, including Christiaan Barnard Hospital. Buildings as far as Bree Street were affected.
It is believed the driver of the vehicle “blacked out” as he drove into the parking lot at Newspaper House in St George’s Mall.
The driver initially scraped the entrance to the parking lot before hurtling down the slope into the basement and into a large water pipe.
The burst pipe quickly flooded the basement and by 10.30am the electricity and phone lines in the building were down.
Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital lost their electricity for almost an hour and a half, but Sister Veronica Barnard, who was on duty at the time, said no one had been affected because the hospital’s generators had kicked in immediately.
The incident affected an entire city centre electrical grid, including the surrounding shops, restaurants and two eight-storey hotels. Fire and rescue services arrived at the scene shortly after 11am where they found the water level in the basement was about a metre deep.
Newspaper House was later isolated and the nearby buildings had their electricity restored in phases from about 1pm.
Fire and rescue services spokeswoman Liezl Moodie said a large pipe was fractured but they had managed to stop the water flow before launching a mop-up and salvage operation.
At 2pm Moodie said the operation would take “at least another eight or nine hours”. A team of about 10 fire and rescue officials were present to pump water out of the basement, with another team due to take over in the evening.
It is believed that the man involved in the accident cut his head and was bleeding profusely. Netcare 911 ambulance services arrived at about 10am and he was taken to hospital.
An employee at Somerset Hospital said the man, Mpunga Kalala, 29, arrived there shortly after 10am and was seen by a doctor just after 11am. He was then transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital for scans.
Kalala had suffered lacerations to his head and had been vomiting and complaining of headaches.
Serco Global Services call centre, on the second floor of Newspaper House, said the man had been “outsourced”.
Serco Global Services’s spokesman, Taariq Matthysen, said he believed the man would be “okay”.
He could not confirm whether Kalala was the driver of the vehicle that damaged the water pipe.
Journalists, photographers and editors of the Cape Times, Cape Argus and Daily Voice, all housed in the building, had to find alternative accommodation to bring out the respective titles. IOL’s Sunday staff members were also affected and the site was not updated as regularly as usual
Cape Times editor Gasant Abarder said: “In times like these, you really appreciate the teamwork that takes place in newsrooms. It makes you appreciate that you can have the best technology in the world, but it’s the human aspect that makes it happen.”
City property executive and owner of the building, Arnold Maresky, was on site on Sunday, but was not able to speak to reporters.
City disaster management spokesman Wilfred Solomons-Johannes said Maresky had asked for assistance and city officials were on site, but a private company was being arranged to take over since it was a private business.
Solomons-Johannes said the situation was not “life-threatening” since the electricity supply to the building had been isolated.