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Brazil blackout tests country's readiness for Olympics and World Cup

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Andre Penner/AP

(Read caption) Cars drive through Paulista Ave. in Sao Paulo during a blackout Tuesday.

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When Rio de Janeiro won the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games six weeks ago it sent the country into seventh heaven. But a month of setbacks has brought Brazilians back down to earth and provided it with a to-do list for the future.

The latest came last night when a power outage plunged half the country into darkness. The blackout hit cities like São Paulo (pop. more than 20 million) and Rio de Janeiro (pop. almost 10 million) and even stretched to parts of Paraguay.

The exact causes are still unclear, but officials believe the crash was due to a fault in transmission lines coming from Itaipu, the mega-dam on Brazil’s border with Paraguay. Itaipu provides up to 14,000 megawatts of energy to both nations, including large swathes of populous southern Brazil.

The border area was hit by wild storms last night and those could have been crucial factors in causing the outage, according to officials.

The circumstances suggest the problem may be an isolated incident rather than a deep-rooted problem. But why Itaipu was providing so much energy alone when other hydro-electric plants could have been sharing the burden is an issue.

“It is worrying that a storm can knock out 50 percent of the energy to such a big area,” said Rafael Schechtman, director of the Brazilian Center for Infrastructure. “There was no reason to have all that reliance on Itaipu. Other plants could have been sharing the load and the problem would not have arisen.”

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