Sudden power cuts leave apartment residents in dark

By Phan Duong, Quynh Nguyen   June 14, 2023 | 05:07 am PT
Residents at an apartment complex in Hanoi’s Ha Dong District felt like captives in their own homes when the power suddenly went out and the elevators stopped working on June 5.

It normally takes electric generators in apartment complexes a couple of minutes to activate and run the elevators. But the generator in the complex was broken that day and wouldn’t work.

Without backup power, the complex’s six elevators wouldn’t move and people couldn’t reach their apartments with their children inside. The lights in the hallways went out as well, leaving the whole building in a shroud of darkness.

"Power cuts make things hard and even dangerous," said Tat Dat, a 38-year-old resident of the building.

Dat had rushed home when he heard about the power outage in his neighborhood, worried about his two children who were in his apartment.

"It’s summer now and children are staying at home with their elderly grandparents while their parents are at work," he said.

A neighbor of Dat’s on the 12th floor has two children in grade 4 and 6. The children were visiting an acquaintance’s apartment on the 32th floor that morning.

When they entered the elevator to return home, the power suddenly went off and the lift fell a shocking 8 stories to the 26th floor.

The trapped and terrified children screamed and wept as their father raced over 10 kilometers from work to get home. He then had to climb 26 flights of stairs to reach his children.

During the seven-hour blackout, the electric generator was out of work for four of those hours. Over 500 households had no light, power or fans that sweltering summer day.

Many of the elderly had to stay in their homes and eat whatever they had in their cupboards because they couldn’t climb down tens of floors to reach the ground. Some of the more spry who couldn’t bear the heat inside their houses walked in darkness to the first floor. Many families took bamboo mats into the hallways to relax out there hoping it would be cooler.

Children in an apartment complex in Ha Dong District, Hanoi, take their mats to the hall on the 32th floor during a sudden power cut on June 6, 2023. Photo courtesy of Tat Dat

Children in an apartment complex in Ha Dong District, Hanoi, take their mats into the hallway on the 32th floor during a sudden power outage on June 6, 2023. Photo courtesy of Tat Dat

Consecutive cuts

The power went off without advance notice when the 76-year-old Khue of Bac Tu Liem District was preparing lunch. She thought her house’s circuit breaker tripped out at first, as her neighborhood had just recently experienced a power cut shortly before that.

When Khue’s daughter, Hue, went to check on her child, she found out that the family’s rechargeable fan had not recharged yet, so she had to fan the child herself. Hue then ordered food for delivery and had to wait for 45 minutes until the delivery man arrived, soaked in sweat.

"I had to climb the stairs to get here," he said.

Hue then knew that the electric generator was not working well, and the elevator was unstable. According to the delivery man, the lift had reached the 10th floor and then stopped, which meant he had to walk the remaining 12 floors to reach Hue’s apartment.

Meanwhile, Khue had to serve herself a bowl of instant noodles.

In the hallway later, Hue encountered a neighbor comforting her crying child and elderly mother as they exited the elevator.

The neighbor said that when the power went out the lift had fallen several floors with them inside.

"My mother and my child were so scared that they screamed," she says.

"I had to try to be calm and call the hotline."

The six-year-old apartment complex where Khue lives is home over 2,000 households. The power cut from 10:30a.m. to 5p.m. made everyone confused.

"If there were notices in advance, then we could prepare," Khue said.

"Otherwise, when the power just suddenly goes off like this, we cannot do anything."

Residents in an apartment complex in Bac Tu Liem District, Hanoi, bring their mats and fans to the first floor during a blackout on June 3, 2023. Photo bn VnExpress/Phan Duong

Residents at an apartment complex in Bac Tu Liem District, Hanoi, bring their mats and fans to the first floor during a blackout on June 3, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Phan Duong

Over the first week of June, tens of apartment complexes in around 200 neighborhoods across the city, including Ha Dong, Bac Tu Liem, and Long Bien districts, suffered power cuts of between four and ten hours. Many of the blackouts occurred without advance notice.

Vietnam Electricity Corporation (EVN) has cited a sudden surge in power consumption due to hot weather as the cause of frequent power cuts around the city. They say in order to maintain the grid’s safety, they have to issue emergency power cuts in addition to scheduled power cuts.

"We are attempting to provide electricity for people," a representative of the company said.

"We hope to have people’s understanding during this difficult period."

Vietnam’s northern region has been suffering a lack of power over the past few years.

The situation was made worse this year when hydroelectric dams began running out of water and coal-fired power stations began failing as well. Hydroelectric energy accounts for around 43% of the total power supply in the north, while coal-fired power accounts for around 48% .

A spokesperson from a Bac Tu Liem District-based apartment complex told VnExpress that the complex’s management company had established various plans to solve the blackout problem. Two helpful initiatives launched so far include checking and maintaining their electric generator more frequently, and appointing staff at the reception table to support residents during blackouts.

However, random darkness can still descend on the building at any moment.

People living in Dat’s apartment complex were annoyed with the fact that the electrical generator encountered problems and could not start during the recent blackout.

"Our lives are hard enough when the power goes off during the summer," Dat said.

"If the complex’s generator doesn’t work, it’s like hardships on top of hardships."

Khue saw a sight that she had never seen before when she took her grandchild to the first floor at around 2:30p.m. Tens of families were already there with their mats, rechargeable fans, and portable chargers.

Having been told about solar powered fans, Khue is now urging her daughter to purchase one.

"I also told my husband, who is staying in our hometown, to send me some fans made from areca spathe leaves," she said.

"Only that will help us survive this summer."

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