Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Brazil plunged into darkness as blackout leaves millions without electricity

Much of Brazil was plunged into darkness last night as a problem at a hydroelectric dam left millions without electricity.

As these eerie pictures show, the major cities, such as Rio de Janeiro - the home of the 2016 Olympic Games - were left looking like ghost towns, with only car headlights, candles, and the odd power generator providing tiny pools of illumination for millions.

Other cities such as Sao Paulo were also left in blackness for more than two hours, while all of neighbouring Paraguay was also without power for half an hour.

The outage will likely add to fears that Brazil - and Rio's - infrastructure will not be ready for the influx of people for the games.

Left in the dark: Rio's only illumination comes from car headlights as the city sits in an eerie twilight

Rooftop aeriels were the only source of light for much of the city during the blackout

Rio's famed Copacabana beach was also left in darkness, with some diners heading down to some of the strip's restaurants for meals served by candle light.

The outage was blamed on the large Itaipu dam, which straddles Brazil and Paraguay's borders and produces 17,000 megawatts of power.

Brazilian Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao said outages hit nine of the 27 states in this country of more than 190 million people. No power outages happened in Brasilia, the national capital.

The cause of the failure had not been determined, but Lobao said strong storms uprooted trees near the Itaipu dam just before it went offline and could be to blame.

The power cut could cause problems for Brazil, a nation seen as an ascending economic and political power in the region.

'The image of Brazil, of Rio, is bad enough with all the violence,' said 35-year-old graphic designer Paulo Viera, as he sat in a restaurant a block from the sandy arc of Copacabana.

He said he worried about how the outage might look for a city that last month was picked to host the 2016 Olympics and will be the showcase city for soccer's World Cup in 2014.

'We don't need this to happen. I don't know how it could get worse.'

Dark times: The strip alongside Copacabana beach sits in blackness as reported problems at a hydroelectric dam plunged millions into darkness

A few scattered lights continue in the city centre of the Rio: The power cut raises more questions about how the city will cope with the 2016 Olympics

The only lights come from the roads, with the long exposure of this photograph showing car beams as they head down the freeway

The blackout comes on the heels of a wave of gang fighting in Rio's favelas that led to violence fears for the Olympics.

'It's sad to see such a beautiful city with such a precarious infrastructure,' said 22-year-old law student Igor Fernandes.

'This shouldn't happen in a city that is going to host the Olympic Games.'

No traffic lights on the roads, while Copacabana Palace Hotel manages to give off a few lights thanks to an independent power source

A few candle-lights provide atmosphere for residents who popped for dinner at the Copacabana beach

The major cities were without power for two hours, while portable food stands were perhaps the only outlets providing hot food

Lobao said the hydro plant at the dam itself was working, but there were problems with the power lines that carry electricity across Brazil. Brazil uses almost all the energy produced by the dam, and Paraguay consumes the rest.

In Paraguay, the national energy agency blamed the blackout on a short-circuit at an electrical station near Sao Paulo, saying that failure shut down the entire power grid supplied by Itaipu.

All of Paraguay went dark for about 20 minutes, the country's leading newspaper, ABC Color, reported.

The agency in charge of the dam, Itaipu Binacional, said the blackout did not start at the hydroelectric complex. It said the most likely cause was a failure at one or more points in the transmission system.

The blackouts came two days after CBS's '60 Minutes' news program reported that several past Brazilian power outages were caused by computer hackers.

Brazilian officials had played down the report before the latest outages, and Lobao did not mention it.

Reported cause: The Itaipu Hydroelectric dam, the world's largest operational electricity generator, pictured from the Brazilian side of the border with Paraguay

Brazil's official Agencia Brasil news agency said Tuesday's outage started about 10:20 p.m. (1220 GMT), snarling streets in Rio, where traffic that is normally chaotic turned riotous.

Cars, taxis and buses sped through dark intersections, honking to make their presence known as they zoomed through. Pedestrians scampered across avenues, and tourists scurried back to a handful of luxury beach hotels, the only buildings with light.

The Itaipu dam is the world's second biggest hydroelectric producer, supplying 20 percent of Brazil's electricity. China's Three Gorges dam is the largest.


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