The world’s other biggest blackouts

The world’s other biggest blackouts

India’s dark days continue. When two of the country’s five power grids collapsed today, the number of powerless Indians neared 700 million. With stranded trains, unresponsive ATMs, and dark traffic lights abounding, it’s been an unprecedented disaster only somewhat mitigated by the fact that the majority of Indians aren’t connected to the power grid in the first place. 

India’s outage is now the largest blackout in history, surpassing yesterday’s power outage for the record. But it’s not the only time the world has seen millions without power. Here are a few more of the world’s recent memorable blackouts:

Indonesia: Aug. 20, 2005

Number affected: 120 million people in Java and Bali

When three power stations went down, three provinces — including the capital city, Jakarta — were plunged into darkness. Fires erupted across the capital when resourceful residents turned to candles to light their homes.

Brazil: March 12, 1999

Number affected: 97 million across Brazil and Paraguay

The blackout was caused by lightning hitting an electricity substation, causing the cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to grind to a hault. Just two years later, the Brazilian government was forced to ration power to prevent more blackouts during a national drought.

Brazil: Nov. 10, 2009

Number affected: 60 million across Brazil and Paraguay

Ten years after Brazil’s biggest blackout, the Itaipu dam along the border of Paraguay shut down completely, affecting large parts of both countries. Many at the time thought the blackout (shown above) was the consequence of a cyberattack.

Italy — Sept. 28, 2003

Number affected: 57 million across Italy

The blackout occurred the night of Italy’s annual "Nuit Blanche" or "White Night" festival in Rome. It’s safe to say festivities ended earlier than expected.

United States — Aug. 14, 2003

Number affected:  50 million in New York, Michigan, and Ohio, as well as Toronto and Ottawa, Canada 

The biggest blackout in U.S. history cost an estimated $6 billion dollars. Remarkably, the massive outage began with a single high-voltage power line in Northern Ohio brushing against overgrown trees.

United States — Nov. 9, 1965

Number affected: 30 million across parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, and Ontario, Canada

The initial cause of the blackout was the tripping of a transmission line near Ontario, though at time, many linked the outage with supposed UFO sightings.

Europe — Nov. 4, 2006

Number affected:  10 million across Europe

After a routine shut down of a high-voltage transmission line to allow a ship to pass on the Elms river in Germany supposedly caused this blackout.  France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, and Spain were also affected.

Northeast Brazil — Feb. 4, 2011

Number affected: 10 million

Keeping the lights on does, indeed, appear to be an Achilles heel for the fast-growing economy, provoking fears ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.