Venezuela darkened by third major blackout this month

(CNN) — Electricity slowly returned in most areas of Caracas on Saturday after Venezuela struggled through the third major blackout of March.

Power went out around 7 p.m. Friday. Sirens, car horns and alarms echoed throughout the dark streets before generators began kicking in.

The situation is much worse in the barrios and poorer areas of the capital, and especially outside Caracas, with many struggling with intermittent service since the first major blackout.

Blackouts have become a daily occurrence across Venezuela as the economic crisis has worsened.

The power outage was the talk of the town, overshadowing another round of dueling protests by supporters of embattled President Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaido, president of the National Assembly.

Maduro and his government blame the United States and its allies inside the country, accusing them of sabotaging power plants and the electricity grid. Government officials often release pictures of damaged sections and use government officials to explain on state media what happened and why it’s US President Donald Trump’s fault.

On the other side, Guaido, recognized as Venezuela’s interim president by several countries, including the United States, sees the outages as a good example of why Maduro must go. Guaido and his supporters accuse Maduro of mismanaging the income from the country’s massive oil reserves and failing to maintain public infrastructure.

The cause of the third blackout has not been given, but the first two occurred because of problems at the Guri hydroelectric plant, which serves 70% of the country.

The first blackout started March 8 and was not completely over until about five days later. It put most of Venezuela in the dark, stopping mass transit in the capital, shuttering businesses and gas stations and disrupting operations at hospitals.

Mauro Zambrano, representative of the hospitals and clinics union of Caracas, told CNN there have been four deaths at hospitals, including two at a children’s hospital. CNN has not independently verified any of the four deaths.

The second blackout occurred March 25 after a fire at the Guri plant that Venezuelan Minister of Communications Jorge Rodriguez said was caused by “criminals” and their “gringo masters.”

The blackouts cause problems beyond electricity.

As electricity fails, so does the water supply, leaving millions without access for days. In most hotels, running water is available for only short periods at certain times of the day. Shortages have been felt even in wealthier neighborhoods, with some people saying they haven’t had running water for two days.

Some travel huge distances to collect water at nearby rivers or streams, bathing in unfiltered, sometimes polluted and disease-ridden waters.

Power outages affect all strands of daily activity. The blackouts have halted service in the Caracas subway at times and check-in at the Simon Bolivar International Airport has been done by hand several times in the past few weeks.

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