Monday, Sep 29, 2003
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By Vaiju Naravane
The "White Night" festival in Rome with hundreds of street parties and cultural events ended in catastrophe with thousands of passengers stranded in trains and underground rail networks. The island of Sardinia was the only part of Italy to remain unaffected by the power failure.
"It was an Autumn Night's Dream that turned into a nightmare," a hospital worker told The Hindu by telephone from Rome. He was out with his fiancée, living it up at a street party when the power outage came. "I immediately returned to the hospital because I knew my services would be needed," he said.
"I found it extremely hard to get there in the dark." Hospitals had to operate generators to maintain electric supply.
The French and Italian electricity company officials blamed each other for the power failure, which was caused by the sudden breakdown of power supply from France.
The power supply was momentarily cut because of stormy weather conditions, French officials said. However, they denied that the break in supply caused the massive power outage.
The blackout was caused by an Italian failure to reopen power cables connecting France and Italy following an incident on the lines, a spokesman for France's national grid said. "We formally deny that the origin of the power cut is French," said a spokesman for the French Electricity Transport Network (RTE).
Earlier, the RTE said that two high tension cables used to export electricity to Italy were briefly taken out of operation at 3:25 a.m. (local time) probably as a result of storms.
"The supply could have been restored straightaway if the line had been re-established on the Italian side. The electricity was available for Italy. We don't know why they did not resort to it," he said.
The event was without precedent in the country's history. After the dramatic power outage, which hit the United States in mid-August, the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, had assured Italians that such a disaster could never happen in their country.
Police nationwide were placed on alert but no serious incidents had been reported.
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