One cable collapses, plunging Barcelona into total darkness

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The Independent Online

The collapse of a single power cable has brought chaos to Barcelona, with thousands of residents in one of Europe's most sophisticated cities struggling without power for a second day yesterday.

Spain's second city which is famed for its stylish urban efficiency, scrambled for candles, emergency generators and manual typewriters, while the electricity company, Fecsa-Endesa, warned that supply might not be fully restored "for days or weeks".

Monday's power cut left 350,000 homes in the city without electricity, paralysed the metro system and road traffic, forced hospitals to cancel operations, trapped people in lifts, forced shops and restaurants to close when lights, stoves and cash machines failed, silenced mobile phones, and prompted police to double street patrols to discourage smash and grab raids.

Exasperated residents in the heart of the Catalan capital launched a noisy saucepan-lid protest as night fell, in a spectacle more reminiscent of a Latin American shanty town than Europe's coolest metropolis. Hundreds descended into the heavily policed streets and shouted: "More light and less police", and demanded the nationalisation of power supplies.

Barcelona's streets were gridlocked, as traffic lights failed, and traffic police remained on duty all night to try to manage the chaos. The tram system, the underground rail network and suburban trains stopped on their tracks, bringing the city to a halt. Some passengers resorted to the recently introduced bicycle-renting system, but that too was stymied when their swipe cards could not be read.

Power supplies were restored to some 30,000 people yesterday, but more than 80,000 households faced the prospect of going to bed in the dark with a cold supper for the second night running. One of the substations knocked out by the power cut was burnt to a crisp in a fire that sentsmoke billowing through the streets.

Electricity authorities explained that the collapsed cable produced an overload that created "a very strong short circuit" in neighbouring substations. They ruled out a surge in demand, sabotage or poor maintenance as causes of the failure.

Luis Atienza, the chairman of the Electrical Network, said he did not know why the cable collapsed. Fecsa-Endesa said "the causes need to be clarified", but insisted it was not its fault. Barcelona has suffered several partial power cuts, but none as big is this.

The Barcelona Chamber of Commerce warned that millions of euros would be lost, especially in the food and restaurant sectors.