CHIANG RAI– More than eight million residents and tourists in southern Thailand -– many of them in famous travel hubs such as Phuket, Hat Yai and Koh Samui –- were caught off guard by the country’s biggest-ever power blackout Tuesday night, plunging much of the region into darkness.
Nerves were rattled by the sudden power outage, which began around 7 p.m. local time. In the three southern-most provinces where an Islamic insurgency has raged for nearly a decade, military officials moved quickly to reassure people in Narathiwat, Yala and Pattani provinces that the blackout wasn’t an escalation of the guerrilla war that’s claimed more than 5,000 lives since 2004. Army patrols took to the streets to help reassure anxious residents, while the government announced on television that the outage wasn’t related to the ongoing violence in the region.
In Phuket, the local tourist association said, “We first doubt what really caused this. The impact of the blackout on everyone, especially the business sector, was big. Two hours for life to stop are too long.”
Airports in the region continued to function using emergency back-up power supplies.
Although the sudden outage lasted only a couple of hours, and less in heavily touristed areas, it raised questions about how stable Thailand’s power supply really is. Rumors quickly spread on social-networking sites that the government might have turned off the power on purpose as a ploy to legitimize controversial plans to construct more coal-fired power plants in southern Thailand, which residents and environmentalists vigorously oppose.
The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, though, blamed a faulty high-voltage cable along the main transmission route from central Thailand to the south.
Despite the panic and widespread complaints, some foreign tourists were said to be somewhat enjoying the short-lived chaotic night. For many, it was rare opportunity to view the waxing moon and the brightness of the stars without any light pollution from increasingly busy holiday sites. – By Nopparat Chaichalearmmongkol