A massive power cut caused chaos and shut down public transport across Turkey on Tuesday, with the government refusing to rule out that the electricity system had been the victim of an attack.
The nationwide power cut, the worst in 15 years, began shortly after 10:30 am (0730 GMT) in Istanbul, the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted the Turkey Electricity Transmission Company (TEIAS) as saying.
It was confirmed to have hit 49 of the country’s 81 provinces, from the Greek border to those in the southeast neighbouring Iran and Iraq and including Istanbul and the capital Ankara.
Several hours later, swathes of Turkey including much of Istanbul were still without power, although public transport systems such as metro lines appeared to be working again.
“Every possibility, including a terrorist attack, is being investigated,” said Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu after the magnitude of the outage became clear.
He said a crisis cell has been established at the energy ministry to handle situation, which occurred as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was out of the country on a visit to Slovakia.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz also said the authorities were investigating whether the power outage was due to a technical failure or a “cyber-attack.”
“The most important thing for us is to bring the system back to life. This is not something we frequently experience,” said Yildiz, who was travelling with Erdogan.
He later sought to calm tensions, saying power had already been restored to several regions and the whole country “would be fully energised again soon”.
“We reached 90 percent levels in Istanbul. God willing, there’s not going to be a major problem,” he said.
“It is too early to say now if it is because of a technical reason, a manipulation, a faultplay, an operational mistake, or a cyber (attack). We are looking into it… We cannot say they are excluded possibilities.”
Education Minister Nabi Avci said power would be fully restored nationwide by 8 pm (1700 GMT).
The energy ministry was quoted as saying by Turkish media that a power cut on this scale had not been seen in 15 years.
The blackout trapped people in elevators while the metro systems in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir all stopped working for several hours.
Rescue teams rushed to subway stations to evacuate stranded travellers and bring them to the surface.
Traffic lights also were not working in several spots in Istanbul and Ankara, causing huge traffic jams, with officers taking to the streets in an attempt to break the logjams.
The Marmaray metro line which goes underneath the Bosphorus in Istanbul also went down while high speed train services from Ankara were also halted.
Around three hours after the power cut struck Istanbul, the metro, tramway and the Marmaray underground system came back on line and resumed operations.
Power was being gradually restored to Istanbul with some reports claiming that 80 percent of the city had power again. However many private homes and offices were still without power.
In the heavily industrialised city of Izmit, near Istanbul, the cuts prevented many factories and workshops from functioning.
Severing of power lines
There were conflicting initial reports about the cause of the outage, but Turkish grid operator TEIAS said it resulted from a severing of power lines between Europe and Turkey, and warned it could take hours before electricity is restored.
The Chamber of Electrical Engineers of Turkey, however, claimed that it occurred because some private power suppliers had refused to sell electricity due to low prices.
The DHA news agency said almost all provinces in Turkey were affected, except Van province in the east which imports electricity from neighbouring Iran.
Conspiracy theories did the rounds on the Internet, with the situation the top trend under the hashtag #BuradaElektrikYok (There is no electricity here).
There was no immediate indication that the situation was linked to the hostage drama ongoing in Istanbul where a radical leftist group took a prosecutor hostage at a courthouse and threatened to kill him.
The cut came at a particularly tense period in Turkey ahead of June 7 legislative elections and with Erdogan increasingly polarising society.
The government is seeking to make peace with Kurdish militants while also dealing with the advance of Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Iraq and Syria up to the Turkish border.
Related: Register Your Interest For the 2015 ICS Cyber Security Conference
Related: South Korea Nuclear Plants Stage Drill Against Cyber Attack
Related: South Korea’s ‘Top Gun’ Cyber Warriors