5-hour blackout in Venezuela's capital blamed on line break

CARACAS, Venezuela — A critical link in Venezuela's power grid broke Monday, leaving some residents in the nation's capital and two nearby states without power for up to five hours, officials said.

The mid-day blackout affected the Caracas subway system and its international airport, according to state television and local media accounts.

In the bustling capital, restaurants without power closed their doors and the sidewalks were crowded with people forced above ground from the metro system.

Some packed onto buses, if they could find space.

"You can imagine, there is no room to move," said Harrison Millan, a barber. "Caracas is totally blocked at this moment — totally blocked."

The outage also struck parts of Miranda and Vargas states, and some of the country's cellphone providers also went down, temporarily crippling communications.

The power went down around noon, and Electricity Energy Minister Motta Dominguez said it had been fully restored shortly after 5 p.m. Officials gave no estimates of how many people were affected.

A power surge may have caused the break of a short line bridging a power plant with a substation, Dominguez said.

Power outages are common in Venezuela, which has struggled to maintain its electrical grid amid a worsening economic crisis.

The trustee of a $650 million power company bond declared it in default in November following a missed interest payment, though the company later said it had paid the amount due.

Government officials routinely blame outages in Venezuela on "sabotage" by the opposition.

Residents like homemaker Carolina Valdez vented their frustration over not being able to get from place to place. Police took posts at intersections where traffic lights were out.

"This is not the first time this has happened," Valdez said. This happened a month ago when we had the same problem."

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