Venezuela has been hit by a vast power cut, with at least 18 of its 23 states reportedly affected by a blackout authorities blamed on anti-government saboteurs.
Commuters in the country’s crumbling capital, Caracas, were forced to walk home from work after the metro service was paralyzed by the outage, while the international airport was reportedly plunged into darkness.
Millions of citizens from the western state of Zulia to Amazonas in the far south were also reported to have been affected.
The Venezuelan news website El Pitazo reported that the outage appeared to be the result of a failure at the Simón Bolívar hydroelectric plant in the southern state of Bolívar.
Members of Nicolás Maduro’s crisis-stricken government claimed opposition wreckers had targeted the plant, which is also known as Guri.
“The black out has been caused by sabotage at Guri,” tweeted the official account of the television program of Maduro’s second-in-command, Diosdado Cabello.
“This is not an attack on the government. It is an attack on the people,” Venezuela’s electricity minister, Luis Motta Domínguez, told reporters.
Maduro blamed “United States imperialism” for the problem and vowed it would be defeated. “Nothing and nobody will defeat the people of Bolívar and Chávez,” he tweeted.
Venezuela’s state-run power company, Corpoelec, claimed the blackout was “part of the electricity war against the state” and said it was working to restore supply.
Amid a crippling economic crisis, shortages of water and power – which experts blame on mismanagement, corruption and poor maintenance – are now common. Even upmarket restaurants and hotels in Caracas are regularly deprived of both.
Even so, Thursday’s power outage appeared to be unusually severe even by Venezuelan standards.
“The international airport … is almost totally without electricity at this moment,” the opposition politician, Jony Rahal, informed his Twitter followers in a video.
“What can we say? We’re tired of this government,” one frustrated commuter told the Venezuelan TV channel NTN24.
The blackout was so severe that one Venezuelan journalist asked his Twitter followers to report if they had electricity, not if they did not.
The United States senator Marco Rubio – who has thrown his weight behind efforts to unseat Maduro and replace him with opposition leader Juan Guaidó – described the blackout as further proof that Venezuela’s strongman ruler was on his way out.