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Power Outage Sweeps Cairo, Leaves Commuters Stranded in Heat

Image: A family uses an emergency light at the balcony of their house during a power cut conducted in Elmarag City in Maadi, Cairo

A family uses an emergency light at the balcony of their house during a power cut conducted in Elmarag City in Maadi, Cairo, July 27, 2014. Egypt's government is conducting power cuts to save power due to a power shortage. AMR ABDALLAH DALSH / Reuters, file

Even for a country where electricity outages have become the norm, the huge blackout that paralyzed swathes of the capital Cairo on Thursday’s was a doozy.

The city's 18 million inhabitants woke up in 100-degree heat to find the subway system largely paralyzed, stranding hundreds of thousands of commuters. Many waited hours to cram into overcrowded minibuses or hailed taxis.

With air conditioning, refrigerators and freezers knocked out in central Cairo and outlying areas, the heat melted ice cream and spoiled meat products in countless stores. Meanwhile, small restaurants and carts were unable to prepare food for their morning customers.

“All my equipment runs on electricity ... Normally I have seven power outages a day, which has cut my business down by 75 percent.”

“I lost half my business today because the machine that grinds falafel doesn't work,” said Ibrahim Mahmoud, who owns a sandwich and falafel stand. “The daily electricity cuts in general have been hurting my business.”

“I have five people who work for me and they have suffered too,” he added.

Image: A power cut is conducted at Elmarag City in Maadi, Cairo
Elmarag City in Cairo stands in darkness on July 27. AMR ABDALLAH DALSH / Reuters, file

The ministry of electricity and energy blamed Thursday’s blackout on a technical glitch.

“Ministry officials went to the control center to follow up on reconnecting circuits and managed to return power to certain areas, and are working on restoring supply to other areas,” a spokesman told NBC News.

Egyptians have been braving multiple electricity cuts every day for months, each lasting one to three hours. People have been forced to grope their way up apartment stairs by the light of cellphones to visit doctors who often examine patients by the light of rechargeable lanterns.

Businesses are feeling the pain, too. With computers down, residents have to make several trips to the bank to complete simple transactions. Supermarket cashiers give an apologetic shrug when lights go out and cash registers shut down.

Carpenter Mohamed Sayed said the outages were having a huge impact on his business.

“All my equipment runs on electricity,” he said. “Normally I have seven power outages a day, which has cut my business down by 75 percent.”

The 41-year-old added that the outages have increased since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who led the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, promising to make the country more business friendly and improve government services.

The blackouts have given rise to new opportunities: For those who can afford them, electricity generators can fetch as much as $10,000.