Nationwide power failure hits Bahrain

A nationwide power failure on Monday left Bahrainis snarled in rush-hour traffic and without air conditioning on a day when temperatures reached the mid-fifties degrees Celsius. The United States Navy switched to generator power.

A spokesperson for the electricity department blamed a “technical fault” in a distribution control facility located just outside Manama. She said technicians were working to restore power gradually over several hours.
Some parts of Bahrain were reporting electricity was back starting about four hours after the outage began at about 8.30am.

This hot, humid Gulf country, home to about 600 000 people, often experiences power-supply problems in the summer. But such a widespread outage is rare.

Police were deployed to major intersections to fill in for traffic lights, but cars still sat bumper-to-bumper throughout the city and a spate of minor accidents was reported. Firefighters were dispatched to rescue people stuck in the elevators of high-rise buildings.

Temperatures soared by midday to the mid-fifties when wind and humidity were factored in. Bahrainis sought relief in shopping malls, hospitals, airport lounges and other places that had enough auxiliary power to run air conditioners.

Tempers as well as temperatures were high.

“I’m really angry. This problem doesn’t seem to end,” said Hasan Mohamed, a 25-year-old delivery-van driver waiting in line at a gas station. “I hope somebody is held responsible for all this.”

Crowds lined up at the few gas stations that had generators allowing them to pump, with people filling their car tanks as well empty soda bottles and other containers for fuel to take home to their generators.

Ahmed Kuwaiti, a 42-year-old businessman, was philosophical, saying even the US has power-supply problems—a blackout last year shut down much of the eastern US.

Kuwaiti said Bahrain, which produces about 180 000 barrels of oil a day, should direct any surplus expected from this summer’s high oil prices to correcting its power troubles.

Managers at banks, hotels and the phone and cellphone companies said they switched to their generators, but many said that was not enough to sustain all their regular services. The low roar of auxiliary generators could be heard on Monday morning throughout Manama. Most of Bahrain’s population lives in and around Manama.

Lieutenant Bill Speaks, spokesperson for the Bahrain-headquartered US Fifth Fleet, said the navy experienced a “short blip” without power before turning to generators for essential services.

Several people, mistakenly believing their power had been cut because they had not paid their bills, arrived at the electricity department’s main building in Manama on Monday morning to pay. They were turned away by employees who said they would close early because little work could be done without power for their computers.

In south-eastern Bahrain, Aluminum Bahrain, or Alba, the largest aluminum smelter in the Middle East, reported the power cut had almost brought production to a halt.

Bahrain’s main oil refinery, which has its own power generator, was not affected. The refinery processes about 250 000 barrels of oil a day.

Bahrain’s power capacity is about 1 850 megawatts, while consumption is as high as 1 650 megawatts, with demand growing at 7% a year. Power consumption goes up drastically during the summer, when the strain on the system sometimes results in breakdowns or power outages.

Bahrain last month signed agreements for the construction of a new power plant to be equally owned by Belgium-headquartered Tractebel EGI and Kuwait-based Gulf Investment Corporation.

The plant, expected to be working at full capacity by mid-2007, is to produce 950 megawatts per day, meeting one-third of the power requirements of the country.—Sapa-AP

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