Trains were stalled on tracks, traffic lights went off, factories came to a halt and the West Bengal government declared early holiday as the eastern grid collapsed at 1pm on Tuesday.
A day after the collapse of the northern grid in nine states, the eastern grid collapsed at 1.01pm leading to extensive power outrage and severe disruption to public life in the five eastern states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Sikkim.
Though the authorities scampered for an explanation, Ram Naik, the chairman of the Power Grid Corporation said, "Some states were drawing power far in excess of their entitlements, indicating it might be one of the triggers of the dramatic collapse."
Shortly after the collapse, panic gripped the state. Trinamool Congress workers went around localities requesting people to fill up water and charge their mobiles. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee appealed for calm and announced leave for the government employees at around 3.10pm.
"The collapse of the northern grid might have triggered the eastern grid collapse. But there is no need for panic. The government is doing everything possible to restore power. We will be able to restore power within 10-12 hours… The situation here is better than in New Delhi because metro services in Kolkata are normal, unlike Delhi," Banerjee said at the state secretariat.
The train services were reportedly the worst affected. Lakhs of passengers got stranded at the tracks and station in Howrah, Sealdah, Malda and Asansol divisions. Passengers, including the aged and the infirm were forced to climb from the compartments and walk for miles along the tracks.
The Lakshmikantapur and Titagarh power generating stations that supply electricity to the Sealdah main, north and south sections remained dysfunctional, completely paralyzing the entire division.
"The eastern grid collapsed after the northern and western grids blacked out. The initial assumption is that it failed to take the excess load. We have already started work on the Bandel-Kolaghat section. Partial restoration will be done by evening, but remaining areas will take more time," said power minister Manish Gupta.
Kolkata witnessed a shortfall of more than 600 MW. Metro services in the city remained normal. Only one electricity generating station Bakreshwar in West Bengal kept working.
"We are trying to restore one part at a time, otherwise there might be another accident. If some states, or areas, consume electricity more than the sanctioned strength, then grid failures usually occur. We are investigating into the incident," Gupta added.
Work at factories across the industrial belt of Burdwan-Asansol-Durgapur came to a halt. Five miners of the Eastern Coalfield were reportedly down in the mines when the power supply snapped.
"A grid collapse takes place when multiple power generating units stop generation simultaneously resulting in no power in the entire grid," said an official of CESC that supplies power to Kolkata and Howrah.
Hospitals across the state were forced to function without power forcing severe disruptions. Bodies were also reported to be piling up in crematoriums across the districts as electric incinerators became non-functional. The airport in Kolkata functioned normally.
Lalbazar had to depute 4,000 extra policemen on the roads after the traffic signals went off.
What is a power gird?
It is a network of power lines that transmit power from generating stations. A grid constitutes power stations, sub-stations and transmission lines. India has five grids - East, West, North, South and North-East.
What is a grid collapse?
A rare incidence when all power-generating stations of a particular grid collapse resulting in total stoppage of generation in that grid.
Why do they occur?
Grids functions in narrow frequency bands. If the frequency below the lower limit, that can happen when there is an excess withdrawal of power, grids can collapse.
How to secure a power station from a gird collapse?
The only way for a generating unit in that grid to escape the disaster is to install specialized devises to identify the potential threats of grid failure and isolate itself from the grid. The role of control room personnel becomes crucial in identifying and executing the isolation.