Blackout hits Athens month before Games

ATHENS, Reuters

A blackout swept Athens a month before the Olympics, but the government brushed off the hour-long disruption as a mere glitch and said there was more than enough electricity to power the summer games.

Trains, trolley buses and the underground metro system ground to a halt between 1 p.m. (1000 GMT) and 2 p.m., while traffic lights went out briefly on some main roads.

The city’s fire department received more than 500 calls to rescue people trapped in lifts. Power returned to more than 90 percent of Athens by late afternoon.

The blackout scuppered plans for what was meant to be a triumphant first full trial of the new rail line connecting Athens airport to the city center. The train stopped mid-journey and Transport Minister Michael Liapis and accompanying journalists had to walk through tunnels to the nearest station.

“There is enough power for all the country’s needs, both now and during the Games,” reassured Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas at a news conference, adding that the electricity grid was prepared for higher demand.

“The blackout was not due to an electricity shortage, but to miscalculations in managing the system’s high voltage.”

Greek authorities have assured the International Olympic Committee all steps have been taken to tackle increased power consumption and potential sabotage of the country’s power grid.

Sioufas said during the August 13-29 Games all Olympic venues would have access to an uninterrupted power supply and any system failures would be fixed in seconds. Local media speculated that a surge in air conditioner use during a heatwave over the last few days may have triggered the blackout and blamed state electricity utility PPC for failing to properly manage the network.