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Historical power outage hits Argentina and Uruguay, affecting tens of millions

A widespread power failure early Sunday left a large section of South America, including all of mainland Argentina and Uruguay, without power and an energy company official called the blackout “unprecedented.”

The outage affected Argentina’s transportation system and water supply, according to local news reports. It halted trains and knocked out traffic lights, the reports said. Social media users said parts of Chile, Paraguay and southern Brazil were also affected.

Argentina’s interconnection system “collapsed” at 7:07 a.m., cutting electricity in the entire country and affecting Uruguay, the Argentine Secretariat of Energy said.

“The causes have not been determined and are being investigated,” it added.

Edesur, an electricity company in Argentina, announced on Twitter about 7:50 a.m. that a “massive failure in the electrical interconnection system left all of Argentina and Uruguay without power.”

Uruguay’s energy supplier, UTE, also said on Twitter that a malfunction in the Argentine network before dawn had left the “entire national territory” without service.

Argentina has more than 44 million people, while Uruguay’s population is about 3.5 million.

“There is a complete blackout in Argentina,” said Alejandra Martínez, a spokeswoman for Edesur, which serves parts of the capital, Buenos Aires, and its suburbs and has more than 2.5 million customers.

This is the first time something like this has happened across the entire country

Martínez described the blackout in Argentina as “unprecedented.” She added, “This is the first time something like this has happened across the entire country.”

The outage was caused by a failure in two separate 500,000 volt power lines in a corridor that takes power from the Yacyreta dam to Buenos Aires, according to a high-ranking government official. The cause of that failure remained unclear.

The Argentine official said at 10:30 a.m. local time that it would take four to five hours to restore service to the entire country.

The blackout occurred on a weekend when Buenos Aires and its suburbs have been hit by heavy rainfall.

Residents posted images of their dark towns and cities. El Clarín said the power cut was the worst in Argentina’s recent history, bringing the transport system in Buenos Aires to a halt, as trains stopped and traffic lights went dark.

The Argentine news site Infobae reported that flights appeared to be taking off and landing because airports were operating on generators.

People look for their names in a voters list at a polling station during a national blackout in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

An economist in Uruguay said on Twitter that radio outlets were reporting that 180,000 customers were without power in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay, and 45,000 in Canelones, a city to the north of the capital.

Edesur was one of the first to alert the scale of the blackout, with Edenor, the other distributor servicing the Argentine capital and its suburbs, following suit with a Twitter post at 8:33 a.m. Only the southern Argentine archipelago of Tierra del Fuego appeared to be unaffected, according to local reports.

Later Sunday morning, the Energy Secretariat of Argentina said that work to turn the power back on had begun in parts of the country, but that restoring the entire system “could take a few hours.”

The water company AySA, which is based in Buenos Aires, asked customers to ration water because its distribution system had shut down.

In 2009, a huge power failure in Brazil involving the world’s largest operating hydroelectric plant caused widespread blackouts that affected tens of millions of people and exposed the vulnerability of the country’s electricity infrastructure.

That failure occurred at the Itaipú plant, which straddles the border between Brazil and Paraguay along the Paraná River and is a critical source of power for both nations.

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