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Third World Laughs at Blackout Woes

A blackout? What's the big deal?

That was the reaction from Southeast Asia to West Africa as people in developing countries wondered how something so common to them could bring a huge swath of the world's superpower to a grinding halt.

"Look at their response there in New York," popular radio commentator Joe Taruc wondered aloud in his Friday morning talk show in Manila. "If it happened here, it would be nothing out of the ordinary."

Hot weather, storms, rebel attacks, even giant schools of jellyfish have been known to send power grids crashing like dominoes in countries already struggling to keep up with rising electricity demand. But such periodic power outages have led people to find ways to cope.

In Liberia, once sub-Saharan Africa's richest nation, power has been out since 1992. Factional fighting under Charles Taylor destroyed the hydroelectric plant, and it hasn't been fixed.

Iraqis, who have been enduring 120-degree heat largely without electricity as U.S. administrators struggle to get power back to pre-war levels, saw the North American outage as a bit of poetic justice.

"I hope it lasts for 20 years. Let them feel our suffering," George Ruweid, 27, playing cards with friends on a Baghdad sidewalk, said of the U.S. blackout.

"Blackouts are a part of our daily life. I can't understand why there is such panic in America," said Unal Karatas, 44, a pretzel vendor in Ankara, Turkey.

Virtually every public building of any size in the Philippines has a back-up generator, and companies often have battery-powered units that can keep their computers going when the electricity is out.

So as soon as Manila goes black, the lights start flickering back on. Shopping malls may be forced to cut back air conditioning, but the frappucino blenders at Starbucks keep whirring.

In the shantytown slums, residents bring out lanterns and candles. Traffic — which often ignores red lights anyway when police aren't in sight — continues its honking, cluttered pace with the lights out completely.

One of the strangest outages was in December 1999, when more than half of the Philippines' power supply was knocked out after an estimated 50 tons of jellyfish suddenly swam into a generating plant's cooling system.

Blackouts are a way of life in India, occurring several times a day over most of the country, particularly in the summer, when electricity demands are high for water pumps and fans.

When the power is out for a few hours, people just wait it out, going out to sleep on the roof at night, or trying to find shade during the day. When it's out for several days in poor areas, people sometimes burn tires and blockade streets to call attention to their plight.

After toppled transmission towers caused a huge blackout in 1999, Taiwan moved to reinforce power supplies islandwide. It took other precautions following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, including equipping key government offices with generators.