‘Total collapse’: Bishkek businesses reeling from massive power outage in Central Asia


Atai. T was in the office on Tuesday when his phone came on with notifications around noon.

Both of her parents were trapped in separate elevators at opposite ends of Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, as the city was hit by one of the biggest regional blackouts in Central Asian history.

They were two of several dozen residents of the building failed in elevators – and millions of people without electricity or water – in the former Soviet country. The blackout, which also hit Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, slowed metro trains and disrupted flights in Almaty and Tashkent, and left skiers suspended in the air at stations in the shared region of the network.

“Son, do whatever you want, but I have a manicure appointment in an hour,” Atai recalled as his mother said, prompting him to run across town for city services to pick her up.

Atai’s father, who is divorced and lives separately from his wife, ended up spending the three hours in another elevator at the other end of Bishkek until the electricity was gradually restored.

“Luckily he had his phone to avoid boredom,” Atai, who gave only his first name and last initial to remain anonymous, told the Moscow Times.

While Atai’s parents were only inconvenienced for a few hours, the outage left authorities scrambling to save many more people from elevators and ski lifts – and dealt a devastating blow to Bishkek’s small businesses.

Bishkek city authorities said they had evacuated at least 45 people from the elevators, and emergency services said they Safe all skiers stuck in chairlifts at ski resorts in Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday evening. City emergency authorities noted they answered about 500 calls, but noted that no major incidents were reported during the blackout.

The city’s central hospital turned on its standby generator to ensure continued treatment for its more than 500 coronavirus patients, nearly 200 of whom are hooked up to the oxygen supply system.

Kyrgyz authorities announced the establishment of a joint Kazakh-Uzbek-Kyrgyz commission to establish the cause of the blackout throughout the region.

Kazakhstan’s state-owned electricity supplier said its system had failed due to an “emergency imbalance” in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, which are interconnected by the Soviet-built Central Asian power system. Uzbek officials, in turn, pointed to a domino effect caused by a major crash in the southern Kazakh section of the system.

Power was almost fully restored across Kyrgyzstan by late afternoon, the country’s energy ministry said. But companies have had to contend with lost revenue and blown equipment.

Malika Sootbekova, who runs a chain of 13 restaurants and cafes that employs 300 people in Bishkek, said the blackout had caused a “total collapse”.

“When the power was temporarily restored, three of our electrical panels and transformers broke down, which we will have to repair at our expense,” Sootbekova told the Moscow Times.

“Revenues have dropped significantly. There were guests, but not everyone wanted to eat cold salads and snacks and drink soft drinks,” she added.

The city’s first eco-friendly hotel, which produces its hot water from solar panels, was also “taken aback” by the outage, owner Mirbek Asangariev said.

“This lack of electricity disrupts all our work,” Asangariev said.

“Our hot water supply is based on solar panels, but even they need electricity-powered pumps. A pump was malfunctioning after power came back, so we had to call the repairman,” he added.

TV stations were “broadcasting in a vacuum” when the power went out, said Ravshan Lichaniu, executive producer of Bishkek-based entertainment and news channel TV1.kg.

“Our broadcast itself is protected by an autonomous power supply,” Lichaniu said.

“But that’s another story that no one was actually looking at us at the time.”

AFP contributed reporting.

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