November 11, 2009 in Nation/World

Power failure darkens Brazil

Bradley Brooks Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

The Copacabana beach is seen during a blackout in Rio de Janeiro Tuesday that left millions of people in the dark.
(Full-size photo)

RIO DE JANEIRO – A massive power failure blacked out Brazil’s two largest cities and other parts of Latin America’s biggest nation for more than two hours late Tuesday, leaving millions of people in the dark after a huge hydroelectric dam suddenly went offline. All of neighboring Paraguay also lost power, but for only about 20 minutes.

The huge Itaipu dam straddling the two nations’ border stopped producing 17,000 megawatts of power, resulting in outages in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and at least several other big Brazilian cities.

The cause of the failure had not been determined, but Brazilian Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao said strong storms uprooted trees near the Itaipu dam just before it went offline and could be to blame. Rio was the hardest hit city, he said.

At 12:37 a.m. today, the lights in Rio’s Copacabana neighborhood flashed back to life, prompting cheers and thunderous car honking.

“It’s sad to see such a beautiful city with such a precarious infrastructure,” said Igor Fernandes, a shirtless 22-year-old law student peddling his bike down a dark Copacabana beach. “This shouldn’t happen in a city that is going to host the Olympic Games.”

Lobao said the hydro plant at the dam itself was working, but there were problems with the power lines that carry electricity across Brazil.

The blackouts came three days after CBS’s “60 Minutes” news program reported that several past Brazilian power outages were caused by hackers. Brazilian officials had played down the report before the latest outages, and Lobao did not mention it.

Brazil’s official Agencia Brasil news agency said Tuesday’s outage started about 10:20 p.m., snarling streets in Rio, where traffic that is normally chaotic turned riotous. Cars, taxis and buses zoomed through dark intersections, honking to let 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.

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