ATHENS, Greece – The worst blackout in more than a decade hit Athens and southern Greece on Monday, leaving millions sweltering in a heat wave and raising concerns about whether the lights will go out at next month’s Olympics.
The government blamed the three-hour capital outage on “mismanagement” of the electricity grid. Still, officials promised the network was ready to handle the Aug. 13-29 Olympics.
But it was yet another hurdle in Athens’ attempt to convince the world it is ready to host well-run and safe games. Olympics preparations have come under criticism because of construction delays and concerns over security arrangements to stop terror attacks.
The blackout knocked out air conditioners as afternoon temperatures soared to 104 degrees Monday. The power failure created enormous traffic jams from failed traffic signals and stalled electric trolleys. Hundreds of passengers on the Athens subway were forced to leave trains and walk, and the fire department received hundreds of calls about people trapped in elevators.
In one embarrassing moment for the government, Transport Minister Mihalis Liapis was making a test run to showcase a new Olympic rail link from central Athens to the airport – and got stranded en route when the power failed.
The domino-effect outages were traced to an imbalanced flow of electricity that shut down four power-generating stations, according to a senior government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Greece’s Public Power Corp. did not explain what caused the blackout, saying only that it knocked out four major plants. The company blamed the state-owned grid operator for the outage.
Others members of the Greek government flooded the media with pledges that the Olympics are in no danger of going dark.
The Athens Olympic Organizing Committee, meanwhile, gave assurances that generators would allow the games to proceed even if there’s another big outage. It said protections are in place for everything crucial to the games, including timers and broadcasting equipment.
“A similar incident would not affect the competition schedule and the broadcasting of the games,” the committee said of the outage.
Athens is home to nearly 5 million people, and an estimated 2 million more are expected in Greece this August.
The blackout began at 12:39 p.m. in Athens and quickly spread. Outages were reported 155 miles north and 175 miles south of Athens. It also included some islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas.