Shops operated with gas-powered lamps, traffic lights remained blank and courthouses turned to battery power Tuesday as Spain’s most cosmopolitan city faced day two of a major power outage.
The blackout began Monday morning, hitting public transport, hospitals, homes and businesses, affecting 350,000 customers in all. Power company Fecsa-Endesa said 50,000 customers were still without power late Tuesday.
Firefighters reported a flood of calls from people stuck in elevators, and police officers were sent to major intersections to direct traffic.
Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city, has a population of 1.6 million but attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists all year round. The outage is a huge embarrassment for a city that considers itself more European than the rest of Spain and proudly points to the 1992 Summer Olympics as one of its finest moments.
“How are we going to fight to bring international fairs and other events to Barcelona with a situation like this?” Barcelona Hotel Association president Jordi Clos asked, according to the national news agency Efe.
Generators sold out
Trials were called off Tuesday at court buildings where workers were forced to use battery-powered lamps, and some clerks gave up on the spotty computer service and just kept records by hand, the regional Justice Department said.
Large hotels hooked up generators, small ones did without, and tourists were stymied at some major landmarks. The Barcelona airport was not affected.
The city’s main landmark, the Sagrada Familia church designed by Antoni Gaudi, was without elevators and barred tourists from climbing the stairs to the top of its towering spires. Despite the restrictions, tourists lined up Tuesday to see the most frequently visited attraction in Spain’s northeast Catalonia region.
Nursing home manager Alberto Vargas said he forked over $4,150 to rent a generator for 5 days from a neighboring province because they were sold out in Barcelona. He was worried about keeping medicine fresh and making sure his 120 residents didn’t fall in the dark.
A 'suffering' city
Although Barcelona, like the rest of Spain, is having a cooler-than-normal summer, with temperatures around 80 degrees, the outage meant many businesses and houses had to do without air conditioning.
City officials expressed anger and demanded that the electrical companies responsible, Fecsa-Endesa and Red Electrica de Espana, carry out repairs as soon as possible and pay compensation.
“We will not accept the city suffering another night like this,” Mayor Jordi Hereu said.
The Barcelona-daily El Periodico printed front-page photographs of people using candles in shops and bars.
El Periodico said Catalonia, a wealthy region of which Barcelona is the capital, paid 25 percent of Spain’s electricity bill but only received 15 percent of the money for maintenance.
'The country is not prepared'
The outage began when a substation cable fell, causing a chain-reaction failure in as many as six other substations and a fire in one.
Red Electrica de Espana director Luis Atienza told Cadena SER radio that major cities needed to increase their sources of electricity to cope with this kind of accident. He said maintenance investment was not the issue because it had tripled in the past four years.
Artur Mas, leader of the Convergence and Union coalition, the main party in Catalonia, said the regional government must pressure utilities to invest properly in maintenance.
“What has happened is very serious. It gives you the feeling that the country is not prepared,” He said.
Mas was one of those stuck briefly in an elevator.
“Luckily, I haven’t got claustrophobia, but I was in the dark, alone, and my cell phone did not work,” he told local radio. “Those minutes were very long.”