Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blamed “terrorists” for a new, near-nationwide blackout that gripped the country on Tuesday, two weeks after a similar outage caused deaths and chaos.
In a statement on Twitter, Maduro said a deliberately set “large-scale fire” on Monday hit facilities around the Guri hydroelectric plant in the south of the country that supplies power to 80 percent of Venezuela’s 30 million inhabitants.
“Criminal hands” then knocked out transformers as repairs were going on, he said, alleging that the “sly terrorist attacks” had the goal of “destabilizing” the country.
Venezuelan Minister of Information Jorge Rodriguez tweeted images of electrical installations consumed by flames.
Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez tweeted that a 24-hour closure of schools and workplaces to take a load off the grid would be extended another 24 hours to late yesterday, “based on the scale of the damage.”
The first blackout, between March 7 and March 14, resulted in more than a dozen hospital patients, including those needing dialysis or intensive care, dying, and desperate citizens turning to sewer outfalls to get water.
On Tuesday, Caracas and other cities were paralyzed once more. Public transport and water supplies were disrupted. Buildings without generators — including many hospitals — were plunged into gloom.
Junior Veliz, an unemployed man standing outside a Caracas hospital, told reporters that his newborn daughter “died because [the hospital] didn’t have heating at the time the power went out — she died of respiratory arrest when the power went out.”
Nearby, a patient with renal failure, Beatriz Reyes, said: “We’re waiting for the electricity to come back so they can give us dialysis.”
Streets in the capital were largely empty. Shops were shuttered.
“It’s a real catastrophe, a humanitarian crisis,” said Noe de Souza, the 36-year-old owner of one of the rare bakeries still open.
NetBlocks, an organization that monitors the Internet, said it had detected a “severe impact” to the telecoms network across 18 of Venezuela’s 23 states.
In the last blackout, Maduro also had said the Guri plant was targeted.
Then, he accused the US of launching a “cybernetic” attack against it and the opposition of being behind acts of “sabotage.”
He promised to protect infrastructure with a specially created military unit.
Analysts said that while a US attack was possible it was unlikely, adding that years of underinvestment, poor management and corruption was the more likely culprits.
This time, Maduro’s government again pointed the finger at the opposition.
However, Venezuelan National Assembly President Juan Guaido — recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by the US and its allies — rejected that as unbelievable.
“They are not giving any sensible, credible explanation,” he said. “When it’s not a ‘cyberattack’ or an ‘electromagnetic pulse’ it’s ‘sabotage,’ despite them militarizing more and more the electricity stations.”
He said he had information from workers in the state electricity company Corpoelec that some transformers had overloaded.
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