On Sunday night, a massive power outage robbed all of mainland Argentina and Uruguay of electricity. An estimated 48 million people were affected by the unprecedented electrical failure — and officials are still not sure what caused it.
“There was a failure in the system, the type of failure that takes place regularly in Argentina and in other countries,” Gustavo Lopetegui, Argentina’s energy secretary, said at a news conference. He added “there was a chain of events that happened later that caused a total disconnection.”
He said the investigation could take up to 15 days. The power outage reportedly began around 7am local time on Sunday, and had been restored by Sunday night. There were also reports that parts of Paraguay, Brazil, and Chile experienced outages, too.
Lopetegui said authorities did not suspect the outage was due to a cyberattack, but they’re not ruling it out. “It’s very extraordinary that this happened,” he told reporters. “It has never happened in the history of Argentina.”
Buenos Aires is home to nearly 15 million people. A taxi driver described to the New York Times how the outage created a “zombie city,” explaining there were “car crashes everywhere.” “The government is very lucky this happened in the morning and not in the middle of the night,” he said. An Argentinian water company reportedly recommended that customers ration water because its distribution system had been shut down due to the power outage.
According to AP News, Raúl Bertero, who is a professor at the University of Buenos Aires, said that systemic operational and design errors could have played a role in the electric failure.
“A localized failure like the one that occurred should be isolated by the same system,” Bertero said. “The problem is known and there is technology and studies that (work to) avoid it.”
Gerardo Rabinovich, an energy consultant and vice president of the Argentine Energy Institute, noted to the New York Times how this outage was abnormal because the entire system failed.
“Generally, though, these things happen not because of a lack of robustness in the system but rather a lack of coordination,” Rabinovich said. “Failures in lines can happen, but what cannot happen is for this failure to then propagate to the whole system."
This blackout has already been politicized in Argentine, and brings to light the vulnerability of the country’s electricity infrastructure. Argentina’s President, Mauricio Macri, has promised a full investigation, as the country under his leadership is going through a deep economic crisis.