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Power Outage in Italy Now, Too?
Nationwide blackout hits Italy
Chain-reaction outage moved through Switzerland, France
ROME, Sept. 28 — A massive blackout struck almost all of Italy early Sunday, leaving millions of people without power, stranding planes and trains, and leading to traffic accidents as drivers sped through darkened streets. All but a small chunk of Italy’s 57 million people were affected by what experts said was probably the worst outage here since World War II.
AS IN THE North American blackout, the early hours of Italy’s power outage were filled with confusion as to the cause and finger-pointing among neighboring countries. Italy blamed France; France denied responsibility.
Eventually, it emerged that a chain reaction that started in Switzerland and moved through France caused the blackout in Italy, which imports most of its electrical power.
In Switzerland, a falling tree disabled a power transmission line which caused another line to overload. At about the same time, two French high-voltage lines failed — a problem caused by lightning during heavy storms in the southeast, Italian energy officials told the ANSA news agency
“After that, all connections to Italy dropped out,” said Rolf Schmid, spokesman for the Swiss power company Atel.
All of Italy except the island of Sardinia was affected.
At the Vatican, the blackout left St. Peter’s Basilica — normally lit up overnight — in darkness. When Pope John Paul II delivered his weekly address, the Vatican had to amplify his remarks with a backup generator, while journalists huddled with candles and flashlights in the Holy See press office.
Electricity returned to much of the north by mid-morning and to most of Rome, though erratically, around noon. Parts of the south were still without power.
‘THE ICE CREAMS ARE MELTING’
At a darkened cafe in Rome, manager Massimo Purificato complained he was losing business without his espresso machine and the ability to make croissants.
“All the ice creams are melting. It’s a disaster,” he said. “We’ve lost money and clients.”
Fabrizio Volpi, a 21-year-old student, was briefly stuck in a nightclub when the lights went out. “There was panic, especially from the women,” he said.
Hospitals used generators to keep crucial equipment running, emergency centers were flooded with calls, and traffic accidents occurred as drivers zoomed toward intersections without traffic lights. Airports turned on generators to light up runways, though many flights were delayed and a few canceled, the ANSA news agency said.
Some 110 trains were stopped across the nation with 30,000 passengers on board, and hundreds of people were stranded during an all-night festival in Rome that kept museums and restaurants open around the clock, ANSA reported.
The city had encouraged Romans and tourists to use public transport, but many stranded travelers ended up sleeping in the out-of-service subway stations.
‘NO MAJOR CRISIS’
Authorities urged citizens not to panic.
“Everybody stay calm,” said Civil Defense chief Guido Bertolaso. “There is no major crisis at the moment.”
Premier Silvio Berlusconi was closely following events, his spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti said.
Many cities were tormented by the din of burglar alarms tripped by the power cuts.
Power also went out for about three hours in Geneva, Switzerland, earlier in the night. Austria, Slovenia and Croatia — Italy’s neighbors to the north and east — reported no problems.
In Italy, politicians acknowledged the domestic energy system was insufficient making the country too reliant on imported power.
Some Italians have worried that new power plants could damage the environment — a position that has slowed new plant constructions. Also, national demand has shot up in recent years, prompting energy officials to warn of possible blackouts.
“I would like my fellow citizens to know that we must build new plants and networks on our territory or the situation will remain the same,” said Paolo Scaroni, CEO of power company Enel.
Italy was hit with partial power cuts in June, when people — suffering in the scorching summer — overloaded the system with air conditioners and other electricity-guzzling appliances. That was the first time in more than 20 years that the national operator of the electrical grid ordered power cuts.
Last week, nearly 4 million people in eastern Denmark and southern Sweden were without electricity for more than three hours after a rare power outage plagued parts of Scandinavia.
On Aug. 28, power briefly went out in parts of London and southeast England, shutting off traffic lights in the British capital and stranding hundreds of thousands of people on subways and trains.
Authorities are still investigating the British outage, as well as the Aug. 14 blackout in Canada and the United States.
© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Kind of odd for the United States, Canada, England, and Italy to all have major power outages within the last month...