Light gradually returns to Egypt after cities-wide blackout

Mariam Rizk , Thursday 4 Sep 2014

Most power plants now operating after a tense day that left swathes of the country in the dark for hours and vital services - including the Suez Canal - stalled

Egyptian store
Egyptian stores and homes see return of electricity after a cities-wide blackout (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Egypt woke up in darkness on Thursday after a major blackout hit the capital and other cities nationwide at 6am and then continued for hours, bringing some key services to a halt.

By the evening, and as the power gradually came back, the head of the main national electricity company said that the capacity of power stations had reached 18,000 megawatts out of a potential 24,000, Al-Ahram's Arabic news website reported.

Gaber Desouki said that 90 percent of power plants affected by the outage had come back to work. The outage affected production by 50 percent, dropping to 11,000 mW.

Earlier in the day, Electricity Minister Mohamed Shaker made a public apology and said the blackout was a rare incident that won't likely happen again in the near future. He said the incident was caused by a technical failure during a routine process that shifted production from a major electric circuit under maintenance to others.

He promised an investigation to find the exact reasons behind the outage and a detailed report that will be presented to the president and the prime minister so as to minimise the probability of similar outages.

"This is a technical issue of the first level, and now we are studying the computer's output of the control room," he told private television channel CBC Extra, promising that whoever made a mistake will be held responsible.

"Certainly there will be an investigation into whether this was a technical mistake or an intentional mistake," he said.

Egypt has recently suffered from rolling blackouts due to a scarcity of fuel products and old, poorly maintained power stations. The outage on Thursday, however, was unprecedented in scale since the 1990s and had no relation to the ongoing power crisis, the electricity ministry and experts said.

The massive power cut caused several stations along two metro lines to stop for up to two and a half hours. A railway official, Ali El-Fadaly, told Ahram Online the losses could be estimated at LE500,000.

In other cities, the power outage cost the strategic facilities of the Suez Canal an estimated LE100 million, as naval traffic and industrial activity came to a grinding halt along the vital waterway.

Iron and steel plants in the Red Sea towns of Ain Sokhna and Ataqa were also hit, as experts warned that losses could climb to LE1 billion if the power outage continued.

Some television channels were halted for nearly two hours due to the outage at Media Production City, which said it will request the electricity company to provide an additional source of power in anticipation of future crises.

Some critics called for the sacking of the electricity minister.

Prominent journalist Farida El-Shoubashi held the minister responsible for the problem and requested the country's leadership to "deal with him."

"Does the electricity minister not know that all the devices in the world now work with electricity?" she said angrily in a show on private television channel Sada El-Balad. "(The Minister) is delaying the country's production and delaying life."

Former electricity minister Hassan Younis told Ahram Online that a "cascade outage" caused a technical problem in a Cairo circuit to spread to other cities. He said the ministry's devices are capable of tracking the sequence of the failure to the finest details.

"It's not possible to know if we could have avoided the mistake until we know the exact sequence of the process," he said, refusing to put the blame on any party until the full technical report is presented to authorities.

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