South Korean news media on Friday blasted energy authorities over the country’s worst-ever power cuts, with one newspaper calling them a man-made disaster.
The blackouts on Thursday sparked chaos across the country, with many people trapped in halted elevators, vehicles caught in gridlock with traffic lights out and assembly lines at plants stopped.
More than 1.6 million houses including 400,000 in Seoul were affected, mobile phones were disconnected, banks’ cash dispensers closed, a night baseball game halted and panicky viewers at cinemas scrambled for exits.
No deaths or injuries were reported.
Power cuts are rare in South Korea, a country with high-quality infrastructure. Newspapers said the scale of disruption was unprecedented.
Energy authorities blamed an unexpected surge in demand due to unusually high autumn temperatures that coincided with low supply caused by scheduled maintenance work.
The rolling blackouts lasted for 30-60 minutes in each particular area. The disruption continued for five hours until Thursday evening as the Korea Power Exchange sped up maintenance work and put some facilities back into service.
“It was a man-made disaster,” the Joongang Ilbo daily said editorially, with a front-page picture of rescuers helping students escape from a halted elevator in Suwon city near Seoul.
It accused authorities of failing to heed weather forecasts and neglecting to give prior notice of cuts.
The maximum temperature Thursday was 33 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit), recorded in the southern port of Busan.
The daily urged South Korea to learn from Japan, where the government and people reduced power consumption drastically through conservation following a quake and tsunami that crippled a nuclear plant.
The largest-circulation Chosun Ilbo daily called for stern punishment of those responsible.
“Needless to say, those who are responsible for the shameful blackouts, that happened in the country which has purportedly reached the threshold of a developed country, must be punished,” it said.
Knowledge Economy minister Choi Joong-Kyung issued a public apology late Thursday for causing “great inconvenience” to the people.
He promised to complete maintenance work as soon as possible and operate spare generation facilities.