Nationwide blackout hits Bangladesh after transmission line fails

 A Bangladesh fishmonger lights his fish stall with candles during a power blackout in Dhaka on Nov 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
 A Bangladesh fishmonger lights his fish stall with candles during a power blackout in Dhaka on Nov 1, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - A massive nationwide power blackout hit Bangladesh on Saturday after a transmission line failed, leaving homes, businesses and shops in the densely-populated country without electricity.

Power was restored in some parts of the capital Dhaka after several hours, and authorities said they hoped to have electricity back on across the nation of 155 million by Saturday evening.

Local media said the problem stemmed from a technical problem at an electrical substation that was distributing power from India, but government officials would not confirm the reports.

Engineers "are working to fix the outage", senior power ministry official Masud Alberuni told AFP, adding that all areas linked to the national electricity grid had been hit.

The national grid "tripped" close to mid-day, Alberuni said.

"All the power-generating stations in the country automatically shut down in a cascading effect," he added.

The outage marked the first time the whole country has been without power since November 2007 when Bangladesh was hit by a devastating cyclone, Alberuni said.

The blackout hit at the weekend, lessening the impact on industry. Temperatures have also passed their summer peak, limiting complaints over the stoppage of fans and air conditioning units.

Many people in rural chronically energy-short Bangladesh, used to regular power cuts lasting many hours, did not know that the blackout was nationwide.

But homes and shops went without power, and elevators were halted.

The presidential palace, the prime minister's office, government offices and television stations were all hit by the outage.

Hospital intensive care units functioned on back-up generators, but ward patients suffered.

Power returned to Dhaka's international airport after several hours in which it was forced to run on generators, officials said.

"We have already restored power to some parts of the capital and we can hope we can restore power to the whole country by the evening," power development board spokesman Saiful Hasan told AFP.

Power ministry official Alberuni did not identify the transmission line which had suffered the problem.

But Chowdhury Alamgir Hossain, a director of the state-run Power Grid Company of Bangladesh, told the Dhaka Tribune newspaper the blackout occurred after a transmission line transporting power from India through a "high-voltage" substation failed.

Dhaka began importing power from India late last year through a transmission line stretching from India's eastern state of West Bengal to southwestern Bangladesh.

"We are investigating the reason for the power cut. A probe committee will be formed soon," said Nasrul Hamid, State Minister for Power.

"Power supply has been started in some areas of the country. I hope the entire country will get back normal supply within four to five hours." Still, several hours after the outage began, authorities were only able to supply 400 megawatts of power, far short of normal daily demand of around 7,000 megawatts, local media reported.

Electricity supplies in Bangladesh, one of the world's poorest countries, are vastly overstretched.

The rise in energy consumption has outdistanced economic growth in Bangladesh, as in many other parts of the developing world, with an expanding middle-class and increasing industrialisation imposing ever-heavier loads on scant generating capacity.

The outage evoked memories of a power blackout in India two years ago that was one of the world's worst in recent times.

Some two-thirds of India's states suffered power cuts when three of the nation's five power grids failed at once.

The Indian outage sparked serious doubts about the ability of the country's rickety electricity infrastructure to meet its aspirations to transform itself into an economic superpower.