Energy and the environment

Central America blackout affects millions in region

SAN JOSE • A huge blackout plunged millions of people across Central America into darkness, as the authorities from Panama and Costa Rica to El Salvador scrambled to restore electrical service.

It affected some five million people in Costa Rica alone, where officials largely managed to restore service after a nationwide blackout lasting about five hours last Saturday.

The authorities pinned the blame on a downed Panamanian transmission line that affected the power supply for much of the region.

Countries in the region, from Guatemala to Panama, are connected by the same power grid, covering an expanse of some 1,800km. But that interconnectedness means that the countries of Central America are vulnerable when there are power grid malfunctions in any one country.

Chaos reigned in the Costa Rican capital after traffic lights ceased to function, while the main airport in San Jose had to run on backup power until the power system was up and running again.

The blackout was the first experienced in Costa Rica, among the most developed countries in Latin America, since 2001.

Officials said as many as two million people were left in the dark in Panama, with an undetermined number affected in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Nicaragua for a time had to tap the grid in neighbouring Honduras to keep the lights on.

Details were not immediately available about how many people were affected by the blackout elsewhere in Central America, or whether they managed to get their power back up and running.

Officials at the Costa Rican Institute for Electricity said power was disrupted throughout the entire country, but was restored in most places by the evening.

"ICE is trying to diagnose the problem," said Communications Minister Mauricio Herrera, referring to the office by its Spanish acronym. He said workers succeeded in restoring power to some areas of Costa Rica. ICE said the origins of the blackout were outside of the country and urged the public to remain indoors while they fix the problem.

In Panama, the government power authority said the nation had experienced just a partial blackout and that workers were trying to restore power to the affected areas. Much of the power was restored about three hours after the blackout started.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2017, with the headline 'Central America blackout affects millions in region'. Print Edition | Subscribe