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By Stephanie Foden, Contributing Reporter

SALVADOR, BRAZIL – Around fifty million people in northeastern Brazil were affected by a regionwide blackout on Wednesday afternoon. The power outage was the result of a manmade fire in a rural area of Piauí state that caused two private transmission lines to go down, disconnecting the northeast from the national power grid.

Blackout Strikes Brazil's Northeast, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
The streets of Salvador were marked by extensive police presence during the blackout, photo by Stephanie Foden.

The ONS (National Electricity Operator System) – the independent entity in charge of coordinating transmission to the countrywide grid – said the first shutdown, linking the towns of Ribeiro Gonçalves and São João do Piauí, happened at around 3PM yesterday. The line is operated by a local subsidiary of Spanish power company Isolux.

The circuit was restarted a few minutes later but a new shutdown followed three minutes thereafter. A transmission line operated by a local subsidiary of the Minas Gerais-based Cemig went off shortly after 3PM as a result of the fire.

Airton Feitosa, manager of CHESF (São Francisco River’s Hydroelectric Company) in Piauí state, likened the problem to a “sudden stop” in a car: “It’s like you’re accelerating to 110km/h and take a screeching halt. Two lines of 500 kV transmission had problems,” Feitosa told Folha de São Paulo newspaper.

According to the ONS, transmission was normalized in all capitals in the northeast at around 5:30 PM. At the time of report, supply still had not been fully restored in some small towns across the region, according to the Minister of Mines and Energy, Edison Lobão. The president of the ONS, Hermes Chipp, said that supply should be restored in every city by the end of Wednesday, August 28th.

As in other cities in the region, Bahia state capital Salvador suffered with offline phone and Internet carriers and out-of-service traffic and streetlights. Lacerda Elevator, the city’s main link between upper and lower city, was also shut down. The police emergency service also confirmed reports of arrastões (mob robbery sprees) in at least three different neighborhoods.

The last major blackout in Brazil was in 2009 when Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Recife were among the major cities affected, and an estimated sixty million people in eighteen Brazilian states went without electricity as a result. With Brazil due to host the World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2016, infrastructure capacity and stability will remain key concerns.

Read more (in Portuguese).

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