Four dead, hundreds detained after Venezuela blackout: rights groups

By Shaylim Valderrama

CARACAS (Reuters) – Four people were killed and at least 300 were detained in association with protests and looting that took place during Venezuela’s nationwide blackout, rights groups said on Thursday.

The OPEC nation suffered its worst blackout in history last week following technical problems that the government of President Nicolas Maduro called an act of U.S.-backed sabotage but critics dismissed as the result of incompetence.

Rights groups Provea and the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict said via Twitter that three people were killed in the central state of Lara and one person was killed in the western state of Zulia. The cause of the deaths was unclear.

Alfredo Romero of rights group Foro Penal said at a news conference that 124 people had been detained in protests over public services since the March 8 blackout and that another 200 were arrested over looting.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Power has returned to many parts of Venezuela, though service has not been fully restored to scattered areas of the capital Caracas and much of the western region.

Venezuela plunged into a deep political crisis in January when Juan Guaido, head of the opposition-controlled congress, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was a sham.

That move has put Venezuela at the heart of a geopolitical tussle, with the United States leading most Western nations in recognizing Guaido as the legitimate head of state, while Russia, China and others support Maduro.

Guaido is scheduled to join a meeting of local residents in the El Hatillo district of the capital of Caracas on Thursday.

The blackout that began a week ago left hospitals struggling to keep equipment running, and food rotted in the tropical heat. The nongovernmental organization Doctors for Health said 26 people died in public hospitals during the blackout.

The western state of Zulia suffered intense looting that hit some 350 businesses.

(Reporting by Shaylim Valderrama and Vivian Sequera, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Venezuela congress declares ‘state of alarm’ over blackout

People collect water released through a sewage drain that feeds into the Guaire River, which carries most of the city's wastewater, in Caracas, Venezuela March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Shaylim Valderrama and Anggy Polanco

CARACAS/SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition-run congress on Monday declared a “state of alarm” over a five-day power blackout that has crippled the OPEC member country’s oil exports and left millions of citizens scrambling to find food and water.

Much of Venezuela remained without power on Monday, although electricity had largely returned to the capital of Caracas following an outage that began on Thursday and which President Nicolas Maduro has called an act of U.S.-backed sabotage.

The outage has added to discontent in a country already suffering from hyperinflation and a political crisis after opposition leader Juan Guaido assumed the interim presidency in January after declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud.

Venezuelan citizens living in Bogota protest against Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and the continuing power outage in Venezuela, in Bogota, Colombia, March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Julio Martinez

Venezuelan citizens living in Bogota protest against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro and the continuing power outage in Venezuela, in Bogota, Colombia, March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Julio Martinez

“Nothing is normal in Venezuela, and we will not allow this tragedy to be considered normal, which is why we need this decree of a state of alarm,” said Guaido, who heads the legislature, during the session on Monday.

The constitution allows the president to declare states of alarm amid catastrophes that “seriously compromise the security of the nation,” but does not explicitly say what practical impact such a declaration would have.

Guaido has been recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by the United States and most Western countries, but Maduro retains control of the armed forces and state institutions, and the backing of Russia and China, among others.

Oil industry sources said that exports from the primary port of Jose had been halted for lack of power, cutting off Venezuela’s primary source of revenue.

During the legislative session, Guaido called for a halt in shipments of oil to Maduro’s political ally Cuba, which has received discounted crude from Venezuela for nearly two decades. The deals have drawn scrutiny from the opposition and its allies abroad as Venezuela’s economic crisis worsened.

“We ask for the international community’s cooperation to make this measure effective so that the oil the Venezuelan people urgently need to attend to this national emergency is not given away,” Guaido said.

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton backed the measure, writing on Twitter that, “insurance companies and flag carriers that facilitate these give-away shipments to Cuba are now on notice.” He did not specify any measures the U.S. government may take.

Earlier on Monday, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on a Russian bank over its dealings with Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Russia’s Rosneft for buying PDVSA oil.

People collect water released through a sewage drain that feeds into the Guaire River, which carries most of the city's wastewater, in Caracas, Venezuela March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

People collect water released through a sewage drain that feeds into the Guaire River, which carries most of the city’s wastewater, in Caracas, Venezuela March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

RESTORATION ‘COMPLEX’

The blackout has left food rotting in refrigerators, hospitals have struggled to keep equipment operating, and people have clustered on the streets of Caracas to pick up patchy telephone signals to reach relatives abroad.

On Monday, Venezuelans seeking water formed lines to fill containers from a sewage pipe.

“This is driving me crazy,” said Naile Gonzalez in Chacaito, a commercial neighborhood of Caracas. “The government doesn’t want to accept that this is their fault because they haven’t carried out any maintenance in years.”

Venezuela’s electrical grid has suffered from years of underinvestment. Restrictions on imports have affected the provision of spare parts, while many skilled technical personnel have fled the country amid an exodus of more than 3 million Venezuelans in recent years.

Winston Cabas, the president of an electrical engineers’ professional association, told reporters that several of the country’s thermoelectric plants were operating at just 20 percent of capacity, in part due to lack of fuel. He said the government was rationing electricity.

The process of restoring service was “complex” and could take between five and six days, he said.

“We once had the best electricity system in the world – the most vigorous, the most robust, the most powerful – and those who now administer the system have destroyed it,” he said.

A source at PDVSA also said the government had decided to ration electricity, in part to supply power to the Jose oil export terminal.

The Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Experts consulted by Reuters believe the nationwide blackout originated in transmission lines that transport energy from the Guri hydroelectric plant to the Venezuelan south.

The lack of electricity has aggravated a crisis in Venezuelan hospitals, already lacking investment and maintenance in addition to a shortage of medicines.

School and work activities are set to be suspended on Tuesday, the third working day in a row.

(Reporting by Shaylim Valderrama, Vivian Sequera, Anggy Polanco, and Deisy Buitrago; additional reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; writing by Daniel Flynn, Brian Ellsworth and Luc Cohen; editing by Grant McCool and Rosalba O’Brien)

Doctors pray for sick as blackout batters Venezuelan hospitals

Venezuelans, including doctors, hold banners that read "Solidarity" as they gather outside a church after a mass during an ongoing blackout in downtown Caracas, Venezuela March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Mayela Armas

CARACAS (Reuters) – Maria Rodriguez’s daughter has spent a month in Caracas’s J.M. de los Rios children’s hospital with hydrocephalus, a buildup of spinal fluid in the brain, but staff there have faced an uphill battle treating the girl because of a nationwide power outage.

“It has been horrible since the blackout. My daughter needs treatment that lasts six hours: now she is only getting it when there is power available,” said Rodriguez, 36, who said she is also worried about inadequate water and food in the facility.

Venezuela’s hospitals, already struggling with shortages of supplies and equipment amid an economic meltdown, entered crisis mode on Thursday when the South American nation’s power system went down.

Public hospitals typically have generators to provide back-up electricity in the event of an outage, but doctors consulted by Reuters said they were either damaged or idled for lack of fuel.

Julio Castro of the non-governmental organization Doctors for Health says the blackouts have stretched Venezuelan hospitals to the breaking point. The group says at least 21 people have died in public hospitals during the outage.

“This (blackout) is taking place at a moment when hospitals are operating at limited capacity,” Castro said. “It is not the same as when a hospital is functioning correctly.”

Among the most prone to electricity problems in hospitals are newborns, he said. About 10 percent of the 1,500 children born each day in Venezuela require incubators or other such equipment that cannot function without steady power.

Even before the blackouts, the state of the healthcare system was dire. In a report last year, Doctors for Health said doctors in more than half of Venezuela’s hospitals had been attacked by people who were angry the decaying medical system could not do more for their relatives.

Not having power means hospitals struggle to obtain water, fueling sanitation problems that are aggravated by shortages of cleaning products. Constant fluctuations in electricity also risk damaging the limited equipment that hospitals have.

Socialist President Nicolas Maduro says last week’s blackout was the result of U.S.-backed sabotage, and Venezuelan health authorities say they have kept services intact despite the circumstances.

“The contingency plan has worked, problems have been corrected and patients have been transferred (to other hospitals) when they have requested it,” Health Minister Carlos Alvarado told state television on Sunday.

DOCTORS’ PRAYERS

A group of doctors on Sunday held a mass to pray for the sick, and later walked to the J.M. de los Rios hospital to seek more details about the situation there.

The doors were locked even though they arrived during visiting hours. Women shouted from the windows that they needed help and that there was no food, but police at the entrance blocked their way, according to a Reuters witness.

Several members of a police special forces group called FAES were stationed inside the hospital, according to witnesses.

Within hours, hospital director Natalia Martinho appeared on state television to assure the public everything was fine.

    ”(The) children are in stable condition. The response to this contingency has been a great achievement,” she said. “We have given food to children and their mothers.”

    But for the relatives of patients seeking hospital treatment, official reassurances are little consolation.

Maria Torres, 46, waited anxiously on Sunday outside Caracas’ El Llanito hospital, where her brother was admitted for injuries sustained in a car accident. She worried for his well-being due to the lack of water, medical supplies and electricity.

“This is a nightmare,” she said.

(Reporting by Mayela Armas; Editing by Vivian Sequera, Brian Ellsworth and Paul Simao)

Venezuelans scramble for food and water as oil exports hit by blackout

A security force member stands next to detainees on a street after looting during an ongoing blackout in Caracas, Venezuela March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Vivian Sequera and Anggy Polanco

CARACAS/SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) – Much of Venezuela, including parts of the capital Caracas, remained without power on Monday for a fifth day, crimping vital oil exports and leaving people struggling to obtain water and food.

President Nicolas Maduro, who has blamed the unprecedented blackout on sabotage by the United States at Venezuela’s Guri hydroelectric dam, again ordered the suspension of classes and the working day, as he had on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: People queue to try to buy potable water during a blackout in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela March 10, 2019. REUTERS/William Urdaneta NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

FILE PHOTO: People queue to try to buy potable water during a blackout in Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela March 10, 2019. REUTERS/William Urdaneta NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.

Sources in the energy sector, OPEC member Venezuela’s main source of foreign earnings and a vital generator of revenue for Maduro’s government, said that exports from the main oil terminal of Jose had been halted by the blackouts.

The opposition-controlled congress called an emergency session to discuss the power cuts, blaming negligence by Maduro’s socialist government.

Maduro’s rule is being challenged by Congress leader Juan Guaido, who in January invoked the constitution to assume the presidency after declaring Maduro’s 2018 re-election a fraud.

Guaido has been recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate leader by the United States and most Western countries, but Maduro retains control of the armed forces and state institutions.

The blackout, which began Thursday afternoon, has heightened frustration among Venezuelans already suffering widespread food and medicine shortages, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy suffers a hyperinflationary collapse.

Food has rotted in refrigerators, hospitals have struggled to keep equipment operating, and people have clustered on the streets of Caracas to pick up patchy telephone signals to reach relatives abroad. On Monday, people formed lines to fill containers with water from the streams cascading down the mountain overlooking Caracas.

“This is driving me crazy,” said Naile Gonzalez in Chacaito, a commercial neighborhood of Caracas. “The government doesn’t want to accept that this is their fault because they haven’t carried out any maintenance in years.”

Experts consulted by Reuters believe the nationwide blackout originated in transmission lines that transport energy from the Guri hydroelectric plant to the Venezuelan south.

Venezuela’s electricity network has suffered from years of underinvestment and lack of maintenance. Restrictions on imports have affected the provision of spare parts, while many skilled technical personnel have fled the country amid an exodus of more than three million Venezuelans in three years.

In the early hours of Monday morning, a power substation in southeastern Caracas exploded, cutting off supply to nearby areas, according to Reuters witnesses.

State television on Monday confirmed the incident, which it said left no injuries. It said the cause was being investigated but provided no further details.

Other regions, such as the Andean city of San Cristobal near the border with Colombia, were without electricity on Monday, a Reuters witness said.

The lack of electricity has aggravated a crisis in Venezuelan hospitals, also lacking investment and maintenance in addition to the shortage of medicines.

Dr Julio Castro, of the non-governmental group Doctors for Health, said in a Twitter message on Sunday night that 21 people have died in public hospitals since the start of the blackout.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Anggy Polanco; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Grant McCool)

Puerto Rico power grid braces for hurricane season

Jose Alvarez, 60, uses a head lamp while walking in the dark as the island's fragile power system is still reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria eight months ago, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

By Jessica Resnick-Ault and Nick Brown

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. federal agency tasked with restoring electricity to Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean last year, is leaving the island though thousands still have no power heading into the next hurricane season starting next month.

Only a last-minute request from the governor of the island, bemoaning the “fragile state” of the power grid, managed to keep most of the generators brought by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Puerto Rican soil for another six months.

The remaining generators might help keep the lights on for hospitals or police stations if the island gets hit again during the coming hurricane season, which begins June 1.

Contractors of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers install an electricity pole as the island's fragile power system is still reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria eight months ago, in Utuado, Puerto Rico May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Contractors of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers install an electricity pole as the island’s fragile power system is still reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria eight months ago, in Utuado, Puerto Rico May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last September, leaving 1.5 million homes and businesses in the dark. Both the island’s power utility and the Trump Administration’s Federal Emergency Management Agency were criticized for a slow response.

Most power has been restored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers but the electricity grid remains unreliable, and suffered an island-wide blackout last month.

“The whole world is very nervous about hurricane time,” said Rosalina Abreu Gonzalez, who lives near Mariana, on the eastern side of the island, where power has still not been restored. “There is a real concern – the government hasn’t provided an energy system that is more secure.”

The Army Corps, a unit of the U.S. armed forces, has said its task is largely complete now that most people have power. About 22,000 customers are still without electricity, most in remote areas, according to the new head of the island’s power utility, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.

“Our mission wasn’t to build a modern resilient system,” Charles Alexander, Director of Contingency Operations and Homeland Security Headquarters at the Army Corps, said at a Senate hearing last week.

On April 29, Governor Ricardo Rossello asked U.S. officials to leave behind 850 generators at critical facilities, along with three larger generators used to keep the grid stable. FEMA agreed to leave the mega-generators and generators for 700 critical facilities. Mega-generators supply 75 megawatts of power, enough to power 75,000 homes.

New PREPA Chief Executive Walter Higgins, who has only been on the job for two months, said he is focusing on emergency procedures in the event of another disaster in coming months.

He said there is a plan for building a more resilient grid in the future. Higgins took over from Ricardo Ramos, who resigned as CEO in November after coming under fire for signing unvetted, little-known contractors to restore power, rather than immediately ask for assistance from other utilities.

“Unfortunately, pain causes learning, and what we’ve learned is how to get mutual assistance called for and on the island immediately,” Higgins told Reuters.

Residents of La Chorrera neighbourhood carry an electricity pole as the island's fragile power system is still reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria eight months ago, in Utuado, Puerto Rico May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Bae

Residents of La Chorrera neighbourhood carry an electricity pole as the island’s fragile power system is still reeling from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria eight months ago, in Utuado, Puerto Rico May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Still, PREPA’s grid lacks buried power lines or reinforced poles, common in other hurricane prone areas. The power utility ran up an $8 billion debt over many years, largely due to poor bill collection, causing the system to fall into disrepair.

“It is very hard to see these messages where the government is saying we’re ready for next season. We’re not,” said Sheylda Diaz, a biology professor who lives near Utuado, in the island’s center, where some lines and poles have yet to be fixed.

The Army Corps will not provide further line restoration after Friday, FEMA said.

“People here have no idea that they are leaving,” said Abreu Gonzalez, who runs a center where people without power can go for meals.

Higgins said he sympathizes with those who want the Corps to remain. “I can understand why somebody would want them to stay longer, as long as there’s a single customer out.”

Maria hit shortly after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma slammed the U.S. mainland in 2017, but in both cases, power was largely restored within a week.

“I cannot imagine a scenario where 20,000-plus Texans or 20,000 Floridians were without power and FEMA would make that decision,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico. “I think that’s reprehensible.”

(Reporting By Jessica Resnick-Ault; Editing by Diane Craft)

Puerto Rico restores power to over 70 percent of customers after blackout

A general view shows buildings after Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the island's power company, said Wednesday that a major power line failure in southern Puerto Rico cut electricity to almost all customers, in San Juan, Puerto Rico April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Gabriel Lopez Albarran

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s power company said it had restored power to over 1.1 million homes and businesses by Thursday morning after a transmission line failure cut service to almost all of the island’s 3.4 million residents the day before.

The Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority, known as PREPA, was working to restore power to the less than 30 percent of customers in the U.S. territory still without power after Wednesday morning’s blackout.

The power line failure in southern Puerto Rico was the latest in a string of operational and political headaches for the bankrupt, storm-ravaged power utility.

The utility has struggled to escape the headlines since Hurricane Maria wiped out power to all of Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.

Maria, the worst storm to hit the island in 90 years, devastated Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, and thousands were still without power at the time of Wednesday’s blackout.

PREPA said on Twitter that several power plants were back in service, including units at Central Aguirre, EcoElectrica, Central Costa Sur, Yabucoa and Palo Seco.

The blackout was caused by the failure of a 230-kilovolt transmission line between the oil-fired Aguirre generating complex in Salinas and AES Corp’s <AES.N> coal-fired power plant in Guayama, PREPA said in a statement on Wednesday.

PREPA estimated on Wednesday that it would take 24 to 36 hours to restore service to all customers that had power before Wednesday’s blackout.

Before the outage, PREPA said 1.43 million homes and businesses had electric service. That is 97.2 percent of the utility’s 1.47 million total customers.

Many of the remaining 40,000 customers have been without power since Hurricane Maria.

PREPA has suffered several blackouts since the storm, including an outage last week affecting about 870,000 customers, and has been in bankruptcy since July, owing some $9 billion to mutual funds, hedge funds and other investors.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Lights back on in Venezuela after five-hour blackout

Lights back on in Venezuela after five-hour blackout

By Alexandra Ulmer and Fabian Cambero

CARACAS (Reuters) – A power outage hit parts of the Venezuelan capital Caracas as well as the nearby states of Miranda and Vargas for around five hours on Monday, in what critics said was another sign of the oil-rich nation’s economic meltdown.

Authorities blamed the outage, which began around noon (1600 GMT), on the collapse of an important cable linking a power plant and a transmission tower.

The fault affected some phone lines, parts of the Caracas metro, and the main Maiquetia airport just outside the capital.

Many workers had no choice but to walk home, shops and restaurants closed, and Venezuelans grumbled that another day was disrupted by tumult.

The country is already grappling with the world’s fastest inflation, rising malnutrition, and disease as the state-led economic system grinds to a halt.

“Venezuela has fallen apart,” said David Garcia, 38, as he queued for a hotdog at a stand in the wealthier Chacao neighborhood. He had spent two hours looking for an open restaurant because he could not cook at home.

Venezuela has in recent years suffered frequent blackouts that critics attribute to insufficient investment following the 2007 nationalization of the electricity sector.

“This is a symptom of a country collapsing due to the negligence of those in power,” tweeted opposition lawmaker Tomás Guanipa.

The government has in some cases attributed the blackouts to sabotage or accused critics of exaggerating problems.

Energy minister Luis Motta on Monday tweeted articles on a recent power outage at Atlanta airport in the U.S. state of Georgia, adding: “It happens there too.”

He did not provide details on the magnitude and effects of Monday’s blackout.

Shopkeepers complained that the outage had hurt business.

“It’s a lost day,” said Armindo Gomes, 24, whose Portuguese family runs two bakeries, as he pointed at dough, cheese and meat that should have been refrigerated.

(Reporting by Fabian Cambero and Alexandra Ulmer, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Power outage cripples San Francisco for seven hours

Office workers wait for building elevators to resume working during a power cut in downtown San Francisco, California, U.S. April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage

By Alexandria Sage and Noel Randewich

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – A massive power outage threw San Francisco into chaos for most of the work day on Friday, knocking out traffic signals, paralyzing businesses and halting the city’s famed cable cars.

The power outage, which was triggered by a fire in a PG&E Corp. utility substation, disrupted San Francisco’s normally bustling financial district, home to banks and technology companies.

The blackout started just after 9 a.m. (noon ET/1600 GMT) and at one point affected nearly 90,000 customers, according to PG&E. The cause of the fire was a circuit breaker failure at the substation, PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty said.

Office workers unable to access elevators or use their keycards spilled out onto the sidewalks, some wandering the streets in search of an open cafe or sunny spot to enjoy a rare warm San Francisco day.

Others simply went home, with long lines forming for ferries. For many, there was little to do but wait.

“When I got here we had to shut down all the servers, all the work stations were off-line,” said Bard Wood, an information technology worker in the financial district. “I’m sure we’ve lost millions of dollars already. There’s no business down here right now.”

Some cable car operators snoozed after their cars stalled on the street rails.

Traffic was snarled and emergency workers responded to 20 elevator rescues, according to the city’s fire department, but there were no reported deaths or major injuries. But many businesses, from coffee shops to major banks, took a hit.

Wells Fargo & Co closed 13 bank branches and four office buildings, while the New York Stock Exchange said its ARCA options trading floor in San Francisco was briefly unavailable. Employees in Goldman Sachs’ financial district office were sent home.

King Lip, chief investment officer at Baker Avenue Asset Management, said his firm was in the middle of a trade when “all our systems went down.” He said employees in another state had to complete the transaction.

Two office buildings and a local branch of First Republic Bank were shut down, a sign on the branch’s doorway apologizing for the unexpected closure.

Fourteen neighborhoods were affected, including the main shopping district near Union Square, where stores turned signs to “closed” and major retailers such as Macy’s and Louis Vuitton shut their doors.

In a city proud of its technological prowess, the outage forced residents back to the dark ages. At the salad bar MIXT, cashiers took credit card payments using old-fashioned paper imprints.

“Old school,” commented patron Ben Fackler. “I haven’t seen that in forever.”

DARKENED BY ONE SUBSTATION

For more than two hours, trains barreled through the Montgomery Street station – one of the busiest stops that services the downtown and financial district – as the outage prevented them from stopping until backup generators came on line, Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesman Jim Allison said.

Power was finally restored to all customers by 6 pm local time, PG&E said.

“Workers have entered the substation. They’re assessing the damage and starting to make repairs,” Doherty said.

San Francisco International Airport remained operational, and a U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said there was no evidence of terrorism. The spokesperson requested anonymity, citing department policy.

“This had nothing to do with cyber,” said Joe Weiss, an expert on control system cyber security who has testified to Congress about structural weaknesses in grid components.

“The real question is how could one substation take out, effectively, San Francisco?”

An FBI spokesman said the agency monitored the incident but is not investigating.

Twenty-one San Francisco schools lost power, but remained open nonetheless, according to a Department of Emergency spokesman. At least three hospitals had to rely on backup generators, canceling elective surgeries and redirecting emergency patients to other facilities.

Joanna Gadd, 55, was in the admitting room of the city’s Saint Francis Memorial Hospital waiting for her daughter to undergo surgery when the lights went out.

The diagnostic surgery was canceled. She had forfeited a trip to the United Kingdom, including airfare, to accommodate the operation.

“It is frustrating,” Gadd said. “It’s quite nerve-racking going into surgery. She had been fasting, and fasting for someone with diabetes is definitely no picnic.”

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin, David Ingram, Joe Menn, Robin Respaut, Peter Henderson and Liana Baker in San Francisco, Rodrigo Campos in New York, Tom James in Seattle and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Heather Somerville; Editing by Mary Milliken)

U.S. helping Ukraine investigate December power grid hack

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday it was helping Ukraine investigate an apparent attack last month on the country’s power grid that caused a blackout for 80,000 customers.

Experts have widely described the Dec. 23 incident at western Ukraine’s Prykarpattyaoblenergo utility as the first known power outage caused by a cyber attack. Ukraine’s SBU state security service has blamed Russia for the incident, while U.S. cyber firm iSight Partners linked it to a Russian hacking group known as “Sandworm.”

In an advisory, DHS said they had linked the blackout to malicious code detected in 2014 within industrial control systems used to operate U.S. critical infrastructure. There was no known successful disruption to the U.S. grid, however.

DHS said the “BlackEnergy Malware” appears to have infected Ukraine’s systems with a spear phishing attack via a corrupted Microsoft Word attachment.

The DHS bulletin from the agency’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, or ICS-CERT, is the first public comment about the Ukraine incident.

A report released by Washington-based SANS Inc over the weekend concluded hackers likely caused Ukraine’s six-hour outage by remotely switching breakers in a way that cut power, after installing malware that prevented technicians from detecting the intrusion. The attackers are also believed to have spammed the Ukraine utility’s customer-service center with phone calls in order to prevent real customers from communicating about their downed power.

DHS and the FBI did not immediately respond to requests for additional comment.

(Reporting by Dustin Volz and Jim Finkle; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Andrew Hay)

Russia-Ukraine tensions rise as Crimea is still without power

Russia is cutting off gas supplies to Ukraine this week and could also stop providing coal to the nation as a dispute over a blackout in Crimea escalates.

Crimea, the subject of an ongoing quarrel between the countries, has been relying on emergency power generators since its main supply was attacked over the weekend, Reuters reported. It’s not known who was responsible for attacking the power supply, and the New York Times reported that millions of residents of the peninsula are still without electricity.

The BBC reported there are also water shortages in Crimea, and the Ukraine has stopped delivering goods to the peninsula in the Black Sea.

Tensions between the two nations have been high since Russia annexed the peninsula last year. Russia doesn’t border the territory by land. Ukraine does.

Protesters are preventing repair work from being done. The New York Times report indicates the activists — Crimean Tatars and Ukranian nationalists — want Russia to release political prisoners and permit global organizations to review human rights in the territory.

According to Reuters, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak claimed that the Ukraine was not doing enough to help crews restore power to the territory. He called the inaction a crime and politically motivated.

Ukraine lawmakers, speaking to Reuters, called suggestions that the government was backing the protesters “absolutely groundless.”