- Brazil - electricity
Massive power failure plunges millions into darkness
A major power cut left tens of millions of people in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro without electricity on Tuesday night due to problems with the transmission lines that connect to a massive dam supplying both cities.
AFP - A massive blackout plunged tens of millions in Brazil's largest cities into darkness, sparking major disruptions, fears of crime and energy supply concerns Wednesday for the newly named Olympic hosts.
The outage across much of southern Brazil started at 10:15 pm Tuesday (0015 GMT Wednesday) and lasted some four hours.
It originated at the Itaipu hydroelectric plant that straddles the border between Brazil and Paraguay, supplying both with much of their energy needs.
Police in Sao Paulo and Rio, recently named as the host of the 2016 Olympics, feared an opportunistic crime wave and accidents because of non-functioning traffic lights.
Officials called up off-duty officers and urged the public to stay off the streets.
The metro system in Sao Paulo and Rio suddenly halted, stranding many passengers between underground stations.
There were no immediate reports of disturbances, but local radio and television said they had received many reports of muggings, and residents voiced worries about walking in pitch-black streets.
In Rio, people lit candles, cigarette lighters and cell phones to find their way through darkened streets.
Firefighters said they were overwhelmed by calls from people trapped in elevators.
Traffic lights were extinguished, causing most motorists to nose carefully through intersections.
Taxis, normally numerous, were hard to flag down by stranded residents walking the suddenly darkened streets. Some of the drivers said they were wary of armed robbers taking advantage of the emergency.
Brazilian Energy Minister Edson Lobao said it was not yet known what caused the unprecedented "complete paralysis" of the entire Itaipu plant, but speculated that lightning from a storm might have shorted one of the facility's five high-tension supply lines.
The plant provides around 20 percent of the energy needs of Brazil, Latin America's most populous and economically important nation.
Paraguay, which gets 90 percent of its electricity from the installation, was virtually without power for at least 15 minutes because of the problem, according to reports.
While Brazil has encountered severe power shortages in the past, notably in 2001, 2005 and 2007, the scale of Tuesday's blackout was extraordinary.
One radio station, Bandnews, estimated that 50 million people, or more than a quarter of Brazil's 190-million-strong population, were suddenly thrown into the dark.
Itaipu was reactivated within hours and power was progressively restored in the early hours of Wednesday.
Witnesses and officials said its duration was around four hours, with the states of Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Rio de Janeiro, Goias, Rio Grande do Sul, Parana and Espirito Santo all affected.
According to the National Electric System Operator, the problem caused 17,000 megawatts to abruptly disappear from the national energy grid -- a huge amount of electricity that is equivalent to the needs of Sao Paulo and its suburbs, South America's biggest urban agglomeration with 20 million inhabitants.
A "domino effect" meant Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other major cities and towns were left with no illumination, Itaipu's management said in a statement.
Lobao denied that Brazil's energy system was in crisis.
"The system is not fragile. It's the most secure in the world," he told reporters.
The blackout occurred two days after US network CBS aired a report claiming massive power outages in Brazil in 2005 and 2007 were caused by cyber hackers attacking control systems.
Although Brazilian media were skeptical of that assessment, the US channel said those incidents should serve as a wake-up call to the United States, which a former chief of US national intelligence, Mike McConnell, warned could see its power supplies hit by computer sabotage.