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Tuesday, September 5, 2000
Winds cause havoc at Olympic Park train station

 SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- The howling winds that knocked out train service at Olympic Park station Tuesday and also damaged sailboats training on Sydney Harbor underlined two of the biggest fears of Olympic organizers.

 Ten days before the opening ceremony, a chaotic scene involving hundreds of stranded passengers reminded officials of the threats that nasty weather and transportation problems pose to the Sydney Games.

 The train station mess, along with several recent problems on the Olympic bus network, also raised the specter of a repeat of the transportation problems at the 1996 Summer Games -- with one Sydney volunteer bus driver warning "we're having an Atlanta experience."

 About 500 frustrated and confused passengers were stranded at the Olympic Park station when service was knocked out for about four hours Tuesday afternoon.

 The problem occurred when wind caused a copper power cable to swing into an aluminum hatch on the last carriage of a train that had just left the station. The cable dislodged, and the train stopped.

 About 150 passengers had to be led off the train. Nobody was injured in the evacuation.

 Michael Stanley, a spokesman for the State Rail Authority, said emergency repair crews were at the site within an hour of the power failure and 26 buses were used to transfer passengers to other stations.

 Among those unable to get to the Olympic Park station, which reopened just before sunset, were volunteers heading to the Olympic Stadium for a dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony.

 "From next week there will be literally hundreds of buses available if this unforeseen event should recur during the Olympic Games," said CityRail spokesman John Lee.

 Wind also caused the evacuation of two Olympic venues, knocked down fences and ripped sunscreen panels off the roof of the main press centre.

 The weather bureau recorded gusts of 78 km/h near the Olympic Stadium twice on Tuesday, the strongest recorded there since 1998.

 "It was nerve wracking. Televisions had to be taken off shelves," said Emma Stevenson, venue supervisor at the Olympic shooting centre. "Fences with concrete bases fell over."

 The gusts also broke masts and ripped sails on boats competing in a practice regatta on Sydney Harbour, where several boats capsized. One sailor had to be rescued by a New Zealand coach's boat.

 Roofs were damaged, power was knocked out to thousands of homes and there were 35 bush fires in the region. The wind knocked down at least 40 trees in Sydney and whipped trash along sidewalks.

 Archery teams from Australia, Finland, Turkey, Uganda, Poland and Ukraine were forced to cut short their training because of the wind. But Australian archery team manager Stuart Atkins said it was a good chance to learn how to compete in such conditions.

 Atkins said Australian archers are learning how to compensate for wind by deliberately shooting off target.

 "If you shoot an arrow and it gets hit by a gust, then it is in the hands of the gods," he said. "You learn to deal with it."

 The Olympic Park station problem added to transportation woes already facing Games officials, who fear the train system may not be able to cope with the huge burden of Olympic travellers.

 Also, buses have failed to show up to carry athletes and reporters to Olympic training sessions and news events.

 One bus was two hours late for a scheduled pickup of Australian athletes at the shooting venue, and another bus failed to arrive as scheduled to take Australian water polo competitors to their venue.

 Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates said the situation was "inexcusable," but called the incidents "teething problems" and said they would be solved before the Games begin.

 "It would be too much to expect to get it right on day one," he said.

 Dozens of reporters were left waiting for buses Tuesday, missing the arrival of International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch for his first tour of the athletes' village.

 Journalists said a 16-kilometre bus ride from downtown Sydney to the Olympic Park took more than 80 minutes Tuesday morning, and said drivers exhibited a lack of familiarity with scheduling and routes.

 Volunteer driver Peter Burke said bus drivers were recruited from rural areas and were not familiar with Sydney streets -- recalling a serious problem at the 1996 Summer Games, where drivers from outside Atlanta got lost taking athletes and journalists to events.

 "Olympic transport has only just begun and we're having an Atlanta experience -- not enough buses, not enough drivers," Burke said.

 Each Olympic bus driver carries a large book containing scheduling information and maps, but many of the maps are outdated.

 Officials vowed to make extra resources available immediately, saying they hadn't expected such a huge demand for shuttle buses in the weeks leading up to the Games.

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