People standing outside a shopping mall during a major blackout in Caracas

Venezuela hit by major blackout

About half of Venezuela was struggling with electricity supplies yesterday after a massive blackout caused by a main distribution network failure turned off lights in the country.

In the capital Caracas, traffic lights were disabled and water services knocked out due to the electricity shortage. The underground trains remained trapped in the tunnels while passengers had to be evacuated.

Electrical Energy Minister Jesse Chacon said on the state TV that the failure was in the "backbone" that carries electricity from the Bajo Caroni region, where 60 per cent of Venezuela's power is generated.

He said 11 of 23 states lost power and that, in the Andean region near Colombia, the neighbouring country was helping supply electricity.

"It's going to take several hours to restart the generation plants so we can restore national service," said Franco Silva, vice minister of electricity development.

The crisis started at about noon local time. In Caracas, power was restored by nightfall, but officials said blackouts could persist in other regions.

Despite possessing the world's largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela has been plagued in recent years by worsening power cuts, which have, so far, avoided Caracas.

President Nicolas Maduro reassured the oil industry – the backbone of Venezuela’s economy - has not been affected by the outage. Without giving any further explanation, he accused his political opponents for causing the blackout. "At this moment, everything seems to indicate that the far-right has resumed its plan for an Electrical Strike against the country," Maduro said on Twitter.

Opposition politicians blamed the government that, while spending billions on programmes for the poor, it has failed to invest enough in the electrical grid and generating plants to keep up with growing demand.

The authorities say delays in several initiatives designed to boost electricity output are partly responsible.

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