Traffic grinds to a halt as power cuts put out signals in Sharjah

Electrical power is lost to several residential and commercial areas, darkening traffic lights and causing concern that the rolling blackouts of summer have returned.

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SHARJAH // Electrical power was lost to several residential and commercial areas of Sharjah yesterday morning, darkening traffic lights and causing concern that the rolling blackouts of summer had returned. Rolla, Al Khan, Buhairah and Industrial Areas 1 and 14 were without electricity from 9am until about midday. Many traffic lights stopped working, causing extensive traffic jams during a busy shopping weekend.

Teams of police were deployed in the affected areas to maintain traffic flow and prevent accidents. A traffic police representative said several accidents had been reported, including one that sent two people to Al Qassimi Hospital's emergency centre. "We are stuck in this traffic jam for more than one hour," said Shaban, 30, a Palestinian motorist who was at a blacked-out junction near Ansar Mall.

"Drivers have got to negotiate it between themselves, and as you can see on the sides, many have bumped into the other, and as they wait for police to settle them down, they are worsening the traffic jam." A few minutes later, a police patrol car arrived and closed some other roads leading to the interchange. Officers then helped sort out a few minor accidents. There were no reports of people getting stuck in elevators, but the lack of power forced many residents outside. In the Buhairah area, groups of families could be seen on the corniche escaping the heat of their apartments.

Sammii Mohammed, 35, an Egyptian resident of the Crescent Tower in Buhairah, said his family was lucky that heat had subsided, and they could now stay outside. "We will be here until it gets really hot and try the malls if power is not yet back to our home," he said. "It has recently become meaningless to stay in Sharjah with all these power cuts and expensive tariffs." Other families struggled to use the staircases in their high-rise blocks.

Mohammad, 40, an Egyptian resident of Babeel Tower opposite Al Qasba, said: "It was a big problem for me and my children as we could not stay in our apartment on the 11th floor in a building in Al Majaz. We had to use the stairs to leave the house. We spent three hours in a neighbouring park." Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (Sewa) officials declined to comment on the blackout. For more than two months over the summer, Sharjah residents suffered repeated power cuts. In September, Sewa decided to raise its charges by 50 per cent. The increases were made to meet rising production costs, officials said.

Customers in the industrial sector will have to pay 40 fils per kilowatt hour (kWh) and those in commercial and residential sectors will pay 30 fils per kWh. Previously, the charge was 20 fils per kWh in all areas. Speaking on a local radio talk show after the increases, Ibrahim bin Dimas, the director of Sewa, said only the private homes of Emiratis would be unaffected by the increases. Government subsidies mean they continue to pay 7.5 fils per kWh.

Residents have already started feeling the pinch, with many households complaining that their spending on electricity in Sharjah was almost equalling their monthly rent. In the first month of the new charges, up to 15 households were disconnected for failing to pay their bills.