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ALMATY, (Kazakhstan): Power was trickling back to three Central Asian countries Tuesday after one of the biggest blackouts in the grid-sharing region’s history. An electricity grid accident left millions of people in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan without power on Tuesday, idling subway trains, disrupting flights and trapping people in lifts.

Electricity was all but fully restored across Kyrgyzstan by late afternoon, the country’s energy ministry said.

“Electricity supplies have been restored all over Kyrgyzstan after a large-scale power failure,” a ministry spokeswoman, Jiyde Zootbekova, told AFP.

Uzbekistan’s energy ministry said that “the supply of electricity to the regions of the country is now gradually being restored.”

An AFP correspondent said that electricity had returned to his apartment in central Tashkent at around 4:30 pm (1130 GMT). AFP correspondents in Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty said electricity had returned to the economic hub, although it was not immediately clear if other cities in the vast country’s southern regions had received power again.

Kazakhstan has restored oil output after power outages

Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan, part of a different grid, was not affected by the outage. The power cuts hit close to lunchtime, with media and officials reporting that the blackouts had extended far into the provinces of the three countries.

Uzbekistan’s energy ministry said in a statement that the power outage had been triggered by a “major accident” in Kazakhstan’s power grid. At the main airport in Tashkent, a city of more than two million people, flights were interrupted for several hours but have now resumed. At a ski resort close to Tashkent, videos shared on the Telegram messaging service appeared to show skiers stuck on chair lifts.

Municipal authorities in the Kyrgyz capital said they had evacuated 45 people from lifts in apartment blocks. Central Asian countries have seen their grids burdened by a summer drought that affected hydropower capacity in Kyrgyzstan and by a boom in energy-hungry cryptocurrency mining in the region, especially in Kazakhstan.

The growth of cryptocurrency mining in Kazakhstan was linked in part to a de facto ban on the practice in next-door China, and a spike in prices for volatile cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin in the second half of last year.

Southern Kazakhstan, which traditionally endures energy deficits and relies on supplies from the electricity-rich north of the country, was especially affected by the influx of cryptocurrency miners.

Sergei Kondratyev, an expert with the Moscow-based Institute for Energy and Finance Foundation, said the blackout was the most serious electricity collapse to hit the region “for at least a decade”. “The main reason for such accidents is the lack of coordination in the actions of dispatching services,” Kondratyev told AFP by telephone.

He added that a “problem that is not solved within a few minutes can lead to a blackout.”

Kyrgyzstan’s cabinet chair Akylbek Japarov went further, calling the blackout unprecedented in 30 years of Central Asian independence from Moscow. “The cause of the accident will be established by a joint commission of the three countries,” Japarov said at a briefing, while denying any blame for the accident on Kyrgyzstan’s side.

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