Much of Venezuela has been engulfed by darkness amid one of the largest power cuts in years, raising tensions in a country already on edge from ongoing political turmoil.
The blackout hit 22 of 23 states by some accounts. It struck the capital Caracas, which until now has been spared the worst of a collapse in the nation’s grid, at the peak of rush hour.
Thousands of commuters flooded into the streets because subway service was stopped. Cars jammed the streets amid confusion generated by blackened traffic lights. Others had to walk long distances to get home.
At the darkened maternity ward at the Avila Clinic in wealthy eastern Caracas, mothers expressed anguish as nurses holding candles monitored the vital signs of premature babies in incubators after back-up generators shut off.
Venezuela’s socialist government blasted the outage as an “electrical war” directed by the United States.
Communications minister Jorge Rodriguez said right-wing extremists intent on causing pandemonium in Venezuela and taking orders from Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio were behind the blackout, although he offered no proof.
“A little bit of patience,” Mr Rodriguez urged on state television, saying service would be restored in a few hours.
“If you’re in your home, stay in your home. If you’re in a protected space or at work, it’s better for you to stay there.”
But as night wore on in Caracas, patience was running thin.
Residents threw open their windows and banged pots and pans in the darkness. Some shouted abuse aimed at President Nicolas Maduro in a sign of mounting frustration. Normally hyperactive social media was eerily silent as much of the country was knocked offline.
By midnight on Friday, power had yet to be restored in Caracas and many other areas.
The outage comes as Venezuela is in the throes of a political struggle between Mr Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido, the head of congress who declared himself the nation’s rightful president in January and is recognised by the United States and about 50 nations.
Mr Guaido took to Twitter to blast Mr Maduro for the outage.
“How do you tell a mom who needs to cook, an ill person who depends on a machine, a worker who should be laboring that we are in a powerful country without electricity?” he wrote, using the hashtag #SinLuz, meaning without light.
“Venezuela is clear that the light will return with the end of usurpation.”