CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Hospitals struggled to get back-up generators running, businesses shuttered and families anxiously tried to contact loved ones amid Venezuela's worst-ever power outage Friday, raising tensions in a country already on edge from ongoing political turmoil.
Much of the nation of 31 million people was still without electricity as the blackout stretched into a second day and patience began to wear thin.
"This has never happened before," a frustrated Orlando Roa, 54, said, decrying President Nicolas Maduro's administration for failing to maintain the electrical system and letting qualified engineers leave the country. "This is the fault of the government."
Maduro ordered schools and all government entities closed and told businesses not to open to facilitate work crews trying to restore power.
By many accounts the blackout hit 22 of 23 states, striking during the peak of evening rush hour Thursday, sending thousands of people on long nighttime treks home through some of the world's most violent streets. Until now, Caracas has been spared the worst of a collapse in the nation's grid, but the outage was still wreaking havoc more than 17 hours after it began.
Venezuela's socialist government blasted the power failure on right-wing extremists taking orders from the United States, including Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, and said they were intent on causing pandemonium for several days but offered no proof.
"The electricity war declared and directed by the imperialist United States against our people will be overcome!" President Nicolas Maduro wrote on Twitter in his only public comments on the outage. "No one can defeat the people of Bolivar and Chavez. Maximum unity patriots!"
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shot back saying only Maduro was to blame.
"Maduro's policies bring nothing but darkness," Pompeo wrote on social media. "No food. No medicine. Now, no power. Next, no Maduro."
The outage comes as Venezuela is in the throes of a political struggle between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, the head of congress who declared himself the nation's rightful president in January and is recognized by the United States and about 50 other nations.
Without power to charge cell phones, normally hyper-active social media was eerily quiet. Even state TV — the government's main vehicle for handing down a political line to its followers — went silent. Those who managed to get a signal used the hashtag #SinLuz — meaning without light in English — to share images of cities throughout the country that on Friday resembled ghost towns.