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New blackout hits swaths of Venezuela including Caracas

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A new blackout hit many regions in Venezuela including much of Caracas on Monday, sowing alarm two weeks after a nationwide outage that paralysed the country.

[CARACAS] A new blackout hit many regions in Venezuela including much of Caracas on Monday, sowing alarm two weeks after a nationwide outage that paralysed the country.

The power cut in the capital occurred at 1720 GMT and knocked out electricity in the city centre.

Cellphone signals were also disrupted and television was blanked out. Shops hastily lowered shutters, fearing looters.

A Venezuelan newspaper reported that the power was out at Venezuela's main international airport outside Caracas.

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At least eight of Venezuela's 23 states plus the district of Caracas were reportedly affected.

Anxious Twitter users said power was out across much of the capital, and in several big cities in the west of the country including Barquisimeto, Maracaibo and Barinas.

Some, especially in Maracaibo, said power came and went in their areas but remained unstable.

"Not another blackout, no God, no," tweeted Flore Melero, a 29-year-old resident in the town of Ocumare del Tuy southeast of Caracas.

"Sitting in the office, without power but with a generator, wondering 'How long will this new blackout last?' 'Do I have enough water at home?' 'What about the meat and chicken in the freezer?'" tweeted a Caracas resident, Andres Betancourt.

Their comments summed up the panic and concerns that have lingered since the last blackout, which started March 7 and lasted a week.

Then, more than a dozen patients in hospitals died, public transport came to a halt, production slowed in the vital oil sector and water supplies were interrupted, forcing citizens to turn to sewage outflows and polluted water sources.

President Nicolas Maduro blamed the previous outage on a cyberattack by the United States and alleged that the opposition, led by congress chief Juan Guaido whom the US and 50 other countries recognise as interim president, was intent on "sabotaging" infrastructure. He ordered the creation of a new military unit to protect basic installations.

Observers said that while a US attack was possible it was unlikely.

They said years of underinvestment, poor management and corruption was the more likely culprit and they predicted more power cuts would follow.

CITIZENS FRUSTRATED 

The last outage was sourced back to the huge Guri hydroelectric plant that lies on the Orinoco river in the southern state of Bolivar, which provides power to 80 per cent of Venezuela's population.

According to a study by the opposition-ruled congress and a medical NGO, Medicos por la Salud, around half of Venezuela's hospitals possess generators. In the last blackout, however, many did not work or were insufficient for the needs of intensive-care patients, neonatal wards, and dialysis patients.

Monday's blackout also hit the congress building, called the National Assembly, forcing occupants to exit in the dark using stairs.

In the streets of Caracas, anxiety was evident as residents worked out how to return home without a working subway network and few, overcrammed buses.

"I'm wondering how to get home because there's no metro. I live in the centre and it takes me two hours. I move slowly," said Ana Gonzalez, a frail 64-year-old who was closing up the cleaning products shop where she worked.

For others, frustration and anger bubbled over, adding to a sense of powerlessness created by years of economic crisis that has made food and medicine scarce and prompted an exodus of more than 2.7 million Venezuelans since 2015.

Yoan, an electrician wiring up a frozen yoghurt shop, said. "Here, nobody tells the truth. The media don't tell the truth. And we're prevented from doing our work."

Rafael, working in a printing shop where all the machines had come to a stop, accused the government of "not doing repairs" to the power grid.

"They give so many warnings about the network being damaged and they do nothing," he said.

AFP