Venezuela's blackout hell is scheduled for extension

The horrific blackout that has engulfed all of Venezuela is not going away any time soon.  Today is day four, and there will be more.

New York Times has a good reporter on the case, Anatoly Kurmanaev, and he got pretty close to the bottom of it.  He writes:

I went to the heart of Venezuela's transmission system in Guarico to try to find out what's going on with the grid.  Here's why partial blackouts are unfortunately likely to persist for a while.  I sincerely hope I'm wrong.

Here is his actual filed story, but his bloggy 18-tweet Twitter thread of some kind — strung together here, with graphs showing transmission lines, and his own pictures of what a wasteland the power station is — is more useful and easier to understand.  The Caracas Chronicle has another useful piece by someone who seems to understand power grids, Rodrigo Linares, who comes to the same conclusions.

We learn:

– That the most likely cause of the power blowout was some disaster in the turbines in the central generating station that supplies 80% of the country's electricity.

– That the problem cannot be fixed easily.  The more they try to start the turbines, the more they blow out other elements of the power generation, and it's happening over and over.

– That what little power that is coming on in Caracas and a few other places is from a smaller substation that generates just over half the electricity that normally gets sent.

– That Caracas is getting a little bit of power, sporadically, but cities in western Venezuela, out on the Colombian border, are "at the end of the line" and get nothing.  Their prospects for getting any anytime soon is bleak.

As for what that means, Francisco Toro's essay in the Washington Post will blow you away:

Venezuela watchers have been talking about the "collapse" of the country for a long time.  They were mainly using the word metaphorically, applying it to statistical oddities such as fast declines in oil production, big spikes in infant mortality and skyrocketing prices.  But since Thursday, Venezuela's collapse has taken a turn to the literal, as an all-encompassing nationwide blackout has brought the country close to a standstill.  Without power, the country has seen a hard stop to all the basics of 21st-century life.

In a country already trudging through a serious humanitarian crisis, the collapse of the electric grid is a final catastrophe.  Venezuelans were already chronically hungry, with large numbers reporting they lost weight because they could not afford enough food. With food in such short supply, a power cut isn't just an inconvenience: Not being able to refrigerate food becomes life-threatening.

The stories coming out of hospitals up and down the country have been harrowing.  Only some had working back-up generators, and virtually none were designed to carry a whole hospital over many days.  A video of a nurse using a hand pump to try to keep an infant alive has been circulating on social media.  Thousands of kidney dialysis patients, unable to receive treatment, may face a slow and agonizing death.

Kurmanaev reports that terror stalks the power infrastructure personnel, coming from the SEBIN secret police, which inhibits any recovery effort.

Meanwhile, a Venezuelan writer for Toro's site, the Caracas Chronicles, Gabriela Mesones Rojo, reports that terror stalks the Venezuelan citizens.  As if crime- and thug-infested Caracas isn't hellish enough with power, imagine what it's like without power:

Since then, the country has turned into a ghost town. Survivors roam the empty streets looking for mobile signal, food, water, and a plug.  Most stores remain closed; they say hundreds have died in public hospitals or at their homes, unable to contact anyone for help; fear has conquered the streets; looting and small protests have been reported across the nation; fires have gotten out of control.  Every hour that goes by without electricity, everything gets harder to find, more expensive, scarier and sadder.

Despair is in the air.  "We have seen a lot of crazy shit these past 20 years," says Antonio, a 54-year-old butcher from Falcón.  "But we had never experienced anything close to this.  They turned off the lights and simply walked out the door.  No help is coming.  This is what losing a war must feel like.  Aren't they going to help us with water?  With food?  How much longer until people start dropping dead in the streets?"

Maria walks slowly with a cane, the last rays of sunshine warming her skin.  "I am sad it had to happen like this, when we were so close to the end of this damned government.  I have a knee problem.  I have to walk 17 km to get home.  I have a long way to go.  When I get there, I won't have food or water.  I don't even know if my family will be there.  If they are, I won't know how to feed them.  And if they aren't there, I won't know how to find them."

As I argued the other day, it's an approximation of an EMP attack — and, to my horror, it's extended.  No access to money.  No school.  No food.  No water.  No phones.  No internet.  No lights.  No gas.  No dialysis.  No incubators.  No chemotherapy.  No insulin.  No subway.  No democracy.  It shows that socialism in the end takes everything there is from the citizens.  And in Venezuela, it's a return to nature.

In Mesones Rojo's piece, she finds that the locals are not blaming some generalized "incompetence" for the matter, but the socialist dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro itself.  The locals say the dictatorship wanted this to happen, because it strengthens their grip on power.  Take a look at her personal pictures posted with her piece.

With a few tweets out, this is what the current power generator explosions look like.

Here is a what it looks like:

Here is a report from one of the hospitals.

Any doubts the flight of citizens will accelerate outward?  The latest estimate is for 4 million more people to flee, making that more than 30% of the population. It's for the receiving countries to take care of these people — and way past time for all of them, the U.S. included, to take care of this problem at the root.

Image credit: Twitter screen grab.

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