Mérida, April 30, 2008 (venezuelanalysis.com)– A forest fire near a major power distributor in Venezuela’s Guarico state was the principal cause of a massive power outage that affected 17 of Venezuela’s 23 states for a day, the Venezuelan Energy and Petroleum Minister, Rafael Ramirez, announced Wednesday afternoon.
At approximately 4 pm Tuesday afternoon, rising temperatures from the fire triggered the automatic shutdown of the transmitter that connects the Guri hydroelectric facility to the central and western regions of Venezuela.
Other western power distributors were under maintenance at the time or had to be shutdown in order to repair the Guri connection, sharpening the temporary crisis.
“We are working to not be totally dependent on Guri,” where 70% of the nation’s electricity is generated, Ramirez told the press.
“We understand that our system has a structural problem, and we are working to correct it,” he reported, emphasizing that 18 electricity projects have been launched with a $3.1 billion budget to be carried out over the next three years.
Also, the government has sent a commission to investigate the origins of the forest fire and evaluate the national response to it in order to make necessary adjustments.
The minister reported that at 9 pm Tuesday, 100% of the national electricity network had been restored, but delivery would be delayed as local distributors recharge and imbalances in distribution are reversed.
In Zulia, one of the hardest hit states, authorities reported plans to import electricity temporarily from Colombia to deal with the crisis.
The Enrique Mendoza, ex-governor of Miranda state, insisted Tuesday that there be an investigation into the “real causes of the failure.”
He also said “the outage was a lesson,” and advocated that natural disaster and emergency preparedness training be offered to community councils and citizen assemblies so they can manage such crises along with public institutions.
During the outage, Caracas’s metro system had enough backup power to carry trains to their next stop and release commuters, but the terrestrial train system did not. Most businesses closed for the day, and the streets overflowed with pedestrians and severe traffic.
The metropolitan firefighters reported having evacuated 3,000 people from one of the city’s towers, and responded to many calls from people stuck in elevators. Similar cases and minor traffic accidents were reported in other states.
The country’s national telecommunications company CANTV, major hospitals, and state oil company PDVSA, equipped with substantial emergency backup systems, continued functioning normally during the blackout.
Also, the national airport outside of Caracas remained completely functional shortly after the electricity failure, the state television channel VTV reported.