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Power Failure Brings Sydney to a Halt

A widespread power blackout brought chaos to the heart of Australia's biggest city, Sydney. Thousands of homes have been left without electricity and there has been mayhem for commuters when the power failure forced the closure of major tunnels.

The power failure struck Australia's biggest city during the evening rush hour. For tens of thousands of commuters and shoppers, the journey home proved to be long and frustrating as traffic lights were blacked out, causing massive congestion.

A spokesman for power company, Energy Australia, said the blackout was caused by an unspecified problem with high-voltage cables that service two major substations in the central business district.

The Sydney Harbor tunnel was closed along with other major routes out of the city and hundreds of office buildings were left in darkness.

Fire fighters say they were inundated with calls about automatic fire alarms and dozens of people trapped in elevators had to be rescued.

New South Wales Fire Department Superintendent Craig Brierley says it has been a hectic time.

"It has been a bit chaotic for a lot of the emergency services. I know the fire brigade had, at one stage, over 40 incidents happening at the one time," said Brierley. "We received numerous triple zero [emergency] calls when the power went out. A lot of our calls were to automatic fire alarms, which is buildings-installed fire protection, but probably the major things that we went to were lift rescues."

In the city center and some surrounding suburbs about 70,000 homes and businesses lost power. After more than 2.5 hours, power slowly started returning to many areas.

The outage forced the cancellation of Monday's performances at Sydney's iconic Opera House.

The blackout comes two days after Sydney deliberately turned off its lights for Earth Hour 2009, a global campaign by environmental groups that urges people to turn their lights off for 60 minutes to highlight the issue of climate change.