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Rolling Blackouts Hit Taiwan After Accident at Power Plant

TAIPEI, Taiwan — An accident at a power plant in southern Taiwan on Thursday prompted the authorities to institute an emergency rolling blackout across the island, leaving millions without electricity midday before power was restored in the evening.

Taipower, the state-run utility company, said that the outage was caused by a grid failure at the Hsinta Power Plant in the southern city of Kaohsiung. Shortly after, at around 3 p.m., residents around the island received a government alert on their cellphones warning of the coming blackouts. Then several cities, including Tainan, Taoyuan, and the capital city of Taipei, saw electricity cut almost instantly. At around 8:20 p.m., Taipower said that power across the island had been fully restored.

The authorities said they were still investigating the cause of the failure. Wang Mei-hua, the economic minister, told reporters that an ongoing drought, Taiwan’s worst in half a century, had reduced the capacity of the island’s power supply, complicating efforts to restore electricity.

She added that a recent heat wave had contributed to increased electricity usage, further straining the island’s power supply.

The sudden outage caught many of the island’s 24 million residents off guard. In several cities, the police were forced to manually direct traffic.

Taipower said that about four million households had been affected by the outage.

Science parks in the cities of Hsinchu and Tainan appeared to be mostly unaffected by the outages, according to the news agency. Taiwan is a global hub for high-tech manufacturing and is known for its computer chip industry, whose products are essential components for smartphones, cars and other gadgets.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the chip manufacturing giant, said in an email that some of the company’s facilities had experienced a power dip as a result of the outage but that electricity was being supplied as normal.

The Taipower spokesman said that the scale of the outage on Thursday appeared to be smaller than a 2017 islandwide power blackout. That outage, which lasted five hours, resulted in about $3 million worth of losses for 151 companies in industrial parks and export processing zones, said the ministry of economic affairs at the time.

Thursday’s outage came as Taiwan has been racing to subdue a recent outbreak of the coronavirus. On Wednesday, the island’s health authorities announced 16 cases of local transmission, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began.

On Thursday, officials from Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control were holding a daily news briefing in Taipei to announce 13 new local cases when the room suddenly went dark.

A video of the briefing showed officials sitting on the darkened stage in confusion as reporters talked among themselves, their faces lit by the glowing screens of their laptops. Shortly after, the power came back on.

Raymond Zhong contributed reporting.

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