(AP) — Wilfido Briñez considers himself lucky to live with the roar of electric generators outside his front door in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city and ground zero for the nation’s rolling blackouts.
While many of his neighbors sit in the dark waiting for the lights to come back on, the university professor charges his phone and grades students’ papers on his laptop. Food in his refrigerator stays cold and the air conditioner hums.
“The decibel level is quite high,” said Briñez, speaking above three gas-fueled motors. “Either we have noise or we don’t have electricity.”
As Venezuela’s crisis deepens, the sale of electric generators is one of the few growth industries in the once-wealthy oil nation, whose residents struggle to get through each day as public services crumble.
Millions of poor live at the mercy of Venezuela’s unstable power grid, but middle- and upper-class residents able to scrape together enough dollars are buying backup generators in an attempt to regain a normal life.
Even this solution isn’t foolproof. Gasoline shortages are creeping across the country, imperiling access to fuel for newly bought generators.
“Here, things have gone from bad to worse,” said Junior Cansas, who owns an electronics shop in Maracaibo. “That’s why people are buying generators.”
Venezuela holds the world’s largest oil reserves as well as vast water resources to fill hydroelectric dams. It long had a state-of-the-art power grid that sold excess electricity to neighboring countries.
However, the country’s growing dysfunction crossed a dark milestone on March 7 when a catastrophic power failure left most of its 30 million residents without electricity for days. It even reached the capital of Caracas, knocking out communications, water services and public transportation.
That led to a scramble for generators by residents and small businesses fearing another big outage could hit without warning, plunging their lives once again into chaos.
Some have opted for small units costing a few hundred dollars that can pump out enough power to run a few appliances at a time, such as using the lights and water heater for a shower.
A household living with all the amenities requires a large generator that can cost upward of $1,000 — a small fortune in a country where the typical worker earns $6.50 a month.