Power failure plunges western Cuba into darkness

AP News
Posted: Sep 09, 2012 11:57 PM
Power failure plunges western Cuba into darkness

HAVANA (AP) — Power failed across a large swath of western Cuba on Sunday night, plunging millions of people into darkness including those in the capital of Havana and at the popular bearch resort of Varadero.

The outage knocked out air-conditioning units and electric fans on a sweltering late-summer Caribbean night. Other cities in central and eastern Cuba also had outages, but for only brief spans.

"We were on our balcony waiting for our TV program," said Richard Laredo, a 47-year-old Havana resident who quickly transferred food from the refrigerator to the freezer. "Nobody knows what happened, but people are worried about what they have in their refrigerators."

There was no immediate word on what caused the blackout, which struck a little after 8 p.m. in the middle of the nightly news on state television and was still mostly out in the capital hours later.

Calls to the electrical system's headquarters met busy signals. Officials in the national government were not immediately able to offer an explanation.

State radio said power was gradually being restored, but urged people not to use power-hungry appliances.

Lights were back on in at least one eastern Havana suburb after about 2½ hours, and electricity was restored to the capital's Old Havana district later. Havana's international airport reported that it had power and was continuing operations.

In the capital, home to about 2 million people, the lights went out in a 24-mile-wide (40-kilometer) stretch from Havana's western residential neighborhoods across the city's center and Old Havana district and on to suburbs on the other side of the bay. In the Vedado entertainment and business district, the only buildings with visible light were tourist hotels and upscale apartment towers, which have backup generators.

Problems extended well beyond Havana's city limits, including in the popular tourist resort of Varadero, where power was restored after about two hours.

"We are on our generators, but our guests are not having any problems," a receptionist at the Arenas Doradas hotel in Varadero said before the outage ended.

Outages that began at the same time as Havana's were reported as far away as Santiago, the nation's second-largest metropolis about 475 miles (740 kilometers) away at the other end of the island. The power in Santiago returned after only a few minutes, however. Electricity was out for about 20 minutes in the central cities of Ciego de Avila and Santa Clara. The western city of Pinar del Rio was also without power.

Big blackouts were common in Havana in the 1990s when Cuba was dealing with an energy crisis, and again in the middle of the last decade. But while isolated outages still hit the city on occasion, blackouts of this scope have become rare.


Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Havana contributed to this report.


Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguez/AP