BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Northern blackout leaves hundreds of thousands fuming

The headquarters of Electricite Du Liban in Beirut, Lebanon. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Extensive power cuts hit cities across the north Monday night, leaving hundreds of thousands of people in the dark after an equipment malfunction at a major transformer brought the electrical grid to its knees.

The failure at Deir Ammar power plant caused a blackout in Tripoli, Bsharri, Zghorta, Koura and Batroun throughout the night. The malfunction has many concerned that power rationing will become more severe in areas where there are currently 12 hours of power cuts already.

Toni Marouni, the adviser of Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, said maintenance crews have begun to repair the failed equipment, and he estimates it will take around four days to fix. In the meantime, harsh rationing will continue and there will be a maximum of four hours of power in the affected areas, Marouni said.

Employees from the electrical provider, Qadisha Electricity Company, did not return calls about the electrical service throughout the night, further angering the residents. Qadisha Electricity Company manages part of the Deir Ammar power plant.

Power was returned to the neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh in Tripoli after media reports that security bodies were concerned over the safety of the neighborhood given the number of armed militias in the area. Fighting has erupted periodically between gangs in the Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods throughout the year.

Electrical worker Nasser Rafaia said his salary is around $500 a month and with his kids at school he cannot afford to have a private generator at his house given the high cost of connecting to a private generator.

The smallest connection to a generator can cost around $50 a month.

“Yesterday, the power went off, so the children had to study by candlelight, then they slept in darkness and then had to wake up and light more candles,” Rafaia said. “We don’t know what’s happening and what the reasoning behind this power cut is.”

The long cuts and lack of answers has Rafaia and others worrying the outages may continue into the winter when temperatures plunge and heat is needed.

“I will not accept that my children study by candlelight, because we are already paying our electricity bills,” Rafaia added.

The power cuts have led to other problems as well because electric pumps in some neighborhoods cannot draw water from wells after extended electricity outages.

Owners of private generators complain about their inability to provide electricity for long periods of time. “We are unable to operate generators for a long period of time, we cannot afford diesel expenses,” said Harout Haroutian, a generator owner.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 17, 2012, on page 3.

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