50 million people lose electricity in South American blackout

Heavy rains in Buenos Aires may be to blame for a massive blackout.
Heavy rains in Buenos Aires may be to blame for a massive blackout.
Image: Reuters
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A massive power outage has left swaths of South America at a standstill today (June 16) while tens of millions of people await the restoration of electricity.

Lost electricity has been reported in all of Argentina and Uruguay, and parts of Paraguay, Chile, and Southern Brazil.

Argentina’s power system “collapsed” this morning around 7 am local time, according to a statement by the Argentine Secretariat of Energy, reported by the New York Times (paywall). The grid failure in Argentina affected power in all of Uruguay as well. Meanwhile, social media users in Paraguay, Chile, and Brazil reported that they too were experiencing a blackout.

There is still no explanation as yet about how the massive blackout happened. Heavy rains in and around Buenos Aires may be to blame for the failure. What’s certain, however, is that a failure of such epic proportions highlights the vulnerability of the interconnected South American power grid.

Edesur, an Argentine electrical company with about 2.5 million customers, announced that restoring power would take several hours and is live-blogging updates (link in Spanish). In one such update, issued at 10.30 am local time, the company said, “All of Argentina is affected by a massive cut caused by a failure in the national interconnected system. The cut also affects the bordering countries.” By 11:40 am local time, the company said it had restored power to about 370,000 customers.

The outage, which affected 44 million people in Argentina, about 3.5 million in Uruguay, and likely many millions more in parts of neighboring Chile, Brazil, and Paraguay, was especially poorly timed. Bloomberg reports that parts of Argentina were slated to participate in provincial elections today (paywall). Instead, prospective voters find themselves with no electricity.

Sports fans may be stressed as well: The Copa America, South America’s regional soccer tournament, is also taking place today in Brazil, with Uruguay set to play a match, while Chile plays today in the Women’s World Cup.