SAN JOS – A huge power outage plunged millions of people across Central America into darkness Saturday, as authorities from Panama to Costa Rica to El Salvador scrambled to restore electrical service.
The blackout affected some five million people in Costa Rica alone, where officials largely had managed to restore service after a nationwide power outage lasting about five hours.
Authorities pinned blame for the power outages on a downed Panamanian transmission line that adversely affected the power supply for much of the region.
Countries in the region, from Guatemala to Panama, are connected by the same power grid, covering an expanse of some 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles).
But that interconnectedness means that the countries of Central America are vulnerable when there are power grid malfunctions in any one.
Chaos reigned in the Costa Rican capital after traffic lights ceased to function, while the main airport in San Jose had to run on backup power until the power system was up and running again.
The blackout was the first experienced in Costa Rica, among the most developed countries in Latin America, since 2001.
Officials said as many as two million people were left in the dark in Panama, with an undetermined number affected in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Details were not immediately available about how many people were affected by the blackout elsewhere in Central America, or whether they had managed to get their power systems back up and running.
The blackout in Panama occurred about 15 minutes into a major speech delivered by President Juan Carlos Varela to the country’s legislature.
Nicaragua for a time had to tap the grid in neighboring Honduras to keep the lights on.