TAIPEI, Taiwan — An accident at a power plant in southern Taiwan on Thursday prompted the authorities to institute an emergency rolling blackout across the island, leaving millions without electricity in the middle of the workday.
Taipower, the state-run utility company, said that the outage was caused by a grid failure at the Hsinta Power Plant in the southern city of Kaohsiung. Shortly after, at around 3 p.m., residents around the island received a government alert on their mobile phones warning of the coming blackouts. Then, several cities, including Tainan, Taoyuan, and the capital city of Taipei, saw electricity cut almost instantly.
Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, said Thursday afternoon that the power would be gradually restored as the government worked to resolve the issue. Chang Ting-shu, a spokesman for Taipower, said the utility was hoping to limit the blackouts so that residents would only experience 50 minutes of outage at a time. The utility is investigating the cause of the failure.
The sudden outage caught many of the island’s 24 million residents off guard. In several cities, the police were forced to manually direct traffic. In the eastern city of Hualien, the local fire department received requests to assist people trapped in elevators and help at least one patient who was on a ventilator, according to Taiwan’s official Central News Agency. The government said it would prioritize restoring power for certain places like government offices, hospitals and military-related areas.
Science parks in the cities of Hsinchu and Tainan appeared so far to be mostly unaffected by the outages, according to the news agency. Taiwan is a global hub for high-tech manufacturing and is known for its computer chip industry, whose products are essential components for smartphones, cars and other gadgets.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the chip manufacturing giant, said that some of the company’s facilities had experienced a power dip as a result of the outage but that electricity was being supplied as normal.
“T.S.M.C. has taken emergency response measures and prepared generators to minimize potential impact,” the company said in an email.
The Taipower spokesman said that the scale of the outage on Thursday appeared to be smaller than a previous islandwide power blackout in 2017. That outage, which lasted for five hours, resulted in about $3 million worth of losses for 151 companies in industrial parks and export processing zones, said the ministry of economic affairs at the time.
Thursday’s outage came as Taiwan has been racing to subdue a recent outbreak of the coronavirus. On Wednesday, the island’s health authorities announced 16 cases of local transmission, the highest single day total since the pandemic began last year.
On Thursday, officials from Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control were holding a daily news briefing in Taipei to announce 13 new local cases when the room suddenly went dark.
A video of the briefing showed officials sitting on the darkened stage in confusion as reporters talked among themselves, their faces lit by the glowing screens of their laptops. Shortly after, the power came back on.
Raymond Zhong contributed reporting.