BUENOS AIRES – A massive failure in the electrical grid caused Argentina to wake up Sunday on Father’s Day, and with elections in four provinces, to a historic blackout.
Shortly after 7:00 am on a day marked by heavy rains in much of the country, houses and streets were sitting in darkness. It was not until three hours after it was reported that the situation began normalizing in the country, and at 9:35 pm all of the supply had been restored.
The sudden power outage – which also affected Uruguay and parts of Paraguay – led to the suspension of train and metro services in Buenos Aires, although major airports were operational as they had their own generators.
The blackout also affected the distribution of drinking water, which led the company in charge of the water supply in Buenos Aires and its populous urban belt – which brings together 13 of the 40 million people living in Argentina – to urge users to ration their consumption at home.
An emergency plan was activated for hospitals in Buenos Aires to ensure care of patients, with generators in intensive care areas and operating rooms.
In Twitter messages posted seven hours after the start of the blackout, President Mauricio Macri said what happened was unprecedented and that it would be thoroughly investigated.
Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui convened a press conference in which he said the blackout was “very serious” and cannot happen again.
According to the official explanation, the power grid failure was caused by a collapse of the Argentine Interconnection System (SADI), in particular an electricity transport connection in the northeast of the country near the border between hydroelectric power plants Yacyreta (Argentine-Paraguayan project) and Salto Grande (Argentine-Uruguayan).
Over the next 48 hours, electricity distribution companies will be required to submit a preliminary report on what happened and a full report within 10 days, and those found responsible will be subject to sanctions as according to law.
In particular, the provinces of Santa Fe, San Luis and Formosa were affected, where regional elections were held amid reports of problems with lighting polling stations early Sunday.
In the southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego, located on the island of the same name, elections were also held. It was the only one with electricity as it did not depend on SADI for its power supply.
The historic blackout comes just over four months before the presidential elections on Oct. 27, preceded by a primary on Aug. 11, and has already been criticized by major opponents.
Alberto Fernandez, Macri’s main rival for the presidency in October, referred to rises in electricity tariffs led by the government in recent years.
“Millions of Argentines, who have had to pay a fortune in tariffs that have benefited the friends of those in power, are still waiting for energy to return to their homes,” said Fernandez, the leader of Frente de Todos (Front for All) alliance, who will go to the polls with ex-president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as vice-presidential candidate.
Since Macri came to power in December 2015, he has spearheaded a policy of increasing tariffs of electricity, gas and water, with the aim, as reiterated by the government, to normalize the energy system after years of divestment, one of the strongest criticisms against the Kirchner administration.
“The blackout comes after three years of tariffs of more than 1,000 percent in energy. They told us it was for investment. And the result is a huge blackout,” tweeted politician Sergio Massa, who called on officials responsible for the electrical system to go to Congress to explain the “disaster.”