- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 28, 2003

ROME — Italy regained most of its power yesterday after a blackout hit virtually the entire population in the dead of night, unleashing chaos and stranding thousands of travelers.

Four deaths were attributed unofficially to the outage, the biggest in nearly a decade.

Almost all the country’s 57 million people were affected — a similar scale to last month’s collapse in the Northeastern United States and Canada. But coming on a weekend night, the blackout’s initial impact was less dramatic and caused less economic damage.

Industry Minister Antonio Marzano called for an investigation into the outage, which highlighted Italy’s heavy reliance on power imports.

The national grid GRTN blamed the blackout on problems in the Swiss and French networks.

“We will look at all the data in the computer,” Mr. Marzano told a news conference.

It was the fourth major Western blackout in two months, after cuts in North America, parts of London and Scandinavia.

“It’s chaos, and until the electricity comes back on it will continue to be chaos,” said policeman Fabio Bragazzi, 21, at Rome’s main Termini train station where passengers, among more than 30,000 stranded across the country, slept on the floor.

Eighteen hours after the blackout hit, the exact cause was not known, but Italy ruled out foul play. Italy, France and Switzerland all sought to deflect blame for the outage, which spread through the country within four seconds.

By yesterday evening, only a few of the 103 provinces were still without some power, mostly in the south where some water supplies also were cut.

But train services remained disrupted and many traffic lights were out in Rome, causing traffic jams. Civil defense sent text messages to mobile phones urging people not to use their cars or go to train stations.

The four deaths included a man killed in a traffic accident at an intersection where the lights had failed, a woman burned by candles that fell on her, and two women who fell down stairs.

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