By Kamran Reza Chowdhury
More than 120 million Bangladeshis suffered from a nearly nationwide blackout for at least several hours on Tuesday as the national grid failed, resulting in a shutdown of 30 electricity plants.
Although officials announced that power would be restored by 8 p.m. (local time) – six hours after the blackout began – by midnight many customers still had no electricity.
“The power supply stopped at 2:05 p.m. in 48 out of 64 districts including the capital Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet, owing to a fault at the national grid near Ashuganj,” Shameem Hasan, director of public relations at the Power Development Board, told BenarNews.
“Our power distribution system is such that any fault at the line would automatically stop generation at all power stations. This is for safety,” Hasan said.
The blackout appears to be the worst to affect the South Asian nation since November 2014, when a power grid failure shut down the electricity supply for 10 hours. On Tuesday, officials still had not said whether they had pinpointed the cause for the newest blackout.
Morshed Alam Khan, a chief engineer at the Power Grid Company of Bangladesh Ltd., told BenarNews at 11 p.m. that crews had been working to restore electricity.
“But we need time. After 9 p.m., the demand for electricity stood at 12,000 megawatts. Thus far we have been able to ensure supply of nearly 8,000 megawatts, he said, adding, “It is not possible to start all the shut-down power plants at the same time.
“The supply to some parts has been restored. We are trying our best to restore power supply as soon as possible,” Khan said.
Authorities, meanwhile, said they could not predict when power would be restored throughout Bangladesh.
After the blackout hit, Bangladeshis left their homes to purchase candles along with fuel for vehicles and generators.
After sunset, neighborhood streets and highways in Dhaka were dark except for vehicle headlights.
Thousands of vehicles rushed to the fuel and CNG refuelling stations in Dhaka and the commercial capital Chittagong, causing traffic jams.
“We do not know when the power supply will be restored. The fuel stations are operating with generators,” Md. Shamsu, a three-wheeler driver, told BenarNews at a compressed natural gas filling station in the Tejgaon industrial neighborhood in Dhaka.
“If I do not get gas, I cannot drive tomorrow. If I cannot drive, I will not earn,” he said.
Md. Sumon, a salesman at the Trust filling station in Dhaka, said vehicles flooded into the station after 3 p.m.
“We are really struggling to provide them with gas. If the power supply is not restored, we may stop selling,” he told BenarNews.
Elsewhere, Md. Mizan, a grocer in Dhaka’s Mirpur neighborhood, said customers rushed in to buy candles.
“In less than an hour, the whole stock of candle lights ran out. One customer bought at least five pieces. Many customers left empty handed,” he told BenarNews.
Md. Hashem, a resident of the Nakhalpara neighborhood in Dhaka, said he feared the blackout would be a repeat of 2014.
“What is the solution other than candle light when the power supply is snapped? This is very hard to predict when the power supply will be restored,” he said.
“Mobile phones would run out of charge, while foods kept in the refrigerators would rot. We are really helpless,” Hashem told BenarNews.
Md Azizur Rahman, who lives in a nine-story building, said the blackout had affected his neighbors.
“The elevators do not move without power. The residents had to use stairs – this is very difficult for the senior citizens,” he told BenarNews.
“We do not get water without power supply. I had to lift two buckets of water from the ground floor to use the toilet,” Rahman said.