A major power blackout hit almost 40% of Venezuela's territory and left Caracas in the dark for hours on Tuesday. Power was restored to most regions and Caracas by mid-evening. However a feeling of panic invaded Caracas because the transport system grounded to a halt and commuters had to walk through the crime-ridden city.
The outage at rush hour left Caracas residents without the metro system and traffic lights causing chaos as darkness fell. Drivers pounded their vehicles' horns in the main avenues, which were clogged with traffic. The presidential palace used backup generators to keep its power on. The government said later that 85% of Venezuela's energy supply had been restored, and that oil operations were unaffected. Venezuela is one of the world's leading producers and exporters of oil and gas. The magnitude of the energy collapse also had its impact on the government which gave confused accounts of the cause of the blackout. The Energy ministry blamed a forest fire that had burnt through a high voltage cable and the Interior minister cited problems at a major hydro-electric dam. "It happened at the moment of peak demand," said Hipolito Izquierdo, head of the country's electricity authority. "The line that failed is now totally repaired." Small-scale blackouts are common in rural regions in Venezuela but Caracas' power supply is usually stable; Tuesday's outage was Venezuela's largest in years. Hospitals reported confusion but were running services with generators. The national airport said flights were operating with minor delays. Mobile telephone systems went down for a short time and residents formed long lines at banks. An official at the state-owned oil company PDVSA said refineries and drilling operations were not hit even though power was out in the oil-producing states of Falcon and Zulia. "Everything is perfectly normal, we are doing the analyses and evaluations normal in these cases," the official said.