Taiwanese minister resigns after error at power plant plunges 668,000 homes into darkness

Four-hour electricity outage leaves people trapped in lifts, traffic at a standstill across major cities

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 11:14pm

More than 668,000 homes as well as office buildings and department stores across Taiwan were plunged into darkness on Tuesday after a human error at a power station caused a massive electricity outage.

The incident happened about 4:50pm when six units at the Datan Power Station in Taoyuan, south of Taipei, tripped, causing a drop of four million kilowatts of electricity, the government-run Taiwan Power Corporation said.

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The island’s emergency services were inundated with calls for help, some from people who had become trapped in lifts because of the outage, local media reported. The New Taipei fire service said it received more than 100 calls in two hours after the blackout.

Economics Minister Lee Chih-kung took responsibility for the incident and tendered his resignation to Premier Lin Chuan, who accepted, cabinet spokesman Hsu Kuo-yung announced.

“Minister Lee will submit his written resignation to the cabinet in the next day or two,” he said.

Hsu said that the outage had caused temporary blackouts at some government facilities but had not affected the Presidential Office, despite media reports to the contrary. He added that there had been no damage caused at hospitals or trading estates.

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Airports, high-speed rail lines and motorways were also unaffected, though the failure of signals on smaller roads brought traffic to a standstill in several parts of the Greater Taipei Area, which includes Taipei, Keelung and New Taipei City, reports said.

“It reminded me of the time when Taiwan was hit by the 921 earthquake,” a woman identified only by her surname Lin told the Taipei-based United Daily News, referring to the tremor that struck central Taiwan on September 21, 1999, killing more than 2,000 people.

Lin said she was in a supermarket in New Taipei City when all of the lights went out. She said she was trapped in the store for a while and after leaving became caught up in a traffic jam caused by the signal failures.

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Police said that officers were dispatched to direct traffic, and that no casualties had been reported.

“Initial investigations show that the power outage was caused by operational errors during the supply of natural gas to the power plant by the oil company CPC Corporation, Taiwan,” a spokesman for TaiPower said.

The electricity supply was restored after about four hours, the person said, adding that the outage had affected 17 cities and counties across Taiwan.

Power consumption had surged on the island over the past three days as temperatures surged to 38 degrees Celsius and people turned up their air conditioning units. Hsu urged the public to conserve energy wherever possible.