Massive power failure hits Brazil

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Itaipu hydroelectric plant
Image: Dario Alpern.

A massive power blackout in southern Brazil left tens of millions of people without power, with residents in major cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo affected. Police called in extra officers and asked people to stay off the street when the Itaipu hydroelectric plant failed at 10:15 pm local time Tuesday (0015 GMT Wednesday) and plunged the affected areas into darkness.

The electric plant supplies the regions of Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Rio de Janeiro, Goiás, Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, and Espírito Santo, as well as 90% of neighbouring Paraguay, which was almost completely without power for fifteen minutes. Brazilian Energy Minister Edson Lobao stated that the cause of the "complete paralysis" of the plant was not yet known, but put forward a theory that lightning may have caused the high-tension supply lines to short out.

Although this is not the first time that Brazil has had power outages, with severe loss of electricity in 2001, 2005 and 2007, radio station Bandnews estimated that 50 million people—a quarter of Brazil's population—were affected, one of the largest outages in recent history.

A few hours after the power cut, the hydroelectric plant came back on line and the affected regions gradually regained power, allowing the areas in chaos caused by lack of traffic lights and power to underground railways to return to normal, and residents to put out their candles.