Thursday, May 31, 2007

Absolutely bizarre

This story came in our office wires this morning:

A New Zealand mother who needed an electric oxygen pump to breathe died after an energy company cut the power to her home because she owed them 168.40 New Zealand dollars (122 US dollars), her family claimed on Wednesday.

Police said they had launched an investigation into the death of Folole Muliaga, who was 44, on Tuesday, in the northern city of Auckland, which happened within two hours of state-owned company Mercury Energy cutting power to her house.

Mercury Energy's general manager, James Moulder, said the company was devastated by the woman's death and was conducting its own investigation to determine what happened. A spokesperson from Mercury Energy said they had been contact with the Muliaga family for almost two months over the outstanding bill. "There had been contact with them over the proceeding seven weeks or so about an outstanding amount. Something like 160-200 (New Zealand) dollars," Doug Heffernan said.

Muliaga had been off work since February with an illness when a Mercury Energy representative arrived on Tuesday to disconnect the electricity, said Brenden Sheehan, the woman's nephew in-law.

Sheehan said both Muliaga and her son told the technician she was dependent on the oxygen machine to stay alive and invited him into the house to see it.Muliaga's son, Letitaia, said the technician told them, "he's doing his job, he's here to cut the power off."

Sheehan described Mercury Energy's actions as "reprehensible". "It's absolutely disgusting what they've done," he said.Sheehan said the family's bills would prove Muliaga was trying to pay the account, and received no warning the power would be shut off. Heffernan said the information they had received from the contractor had not indicated that cutting of the electricity supply would be life threatening.