Dubbed the Largest Blackout Ever in History

By CBS News

NEW DELHI, July 31, 2012 – Electric crematoria were snuffed out with bodies inside,New Delhi’s Metro shut down and hundreds of coal miners were trapped underground after three Indian electric grids collapsed in a cascade Tuesday, cutting power to 620 million people in the world’s biggest blackout.

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While Indians were furious and embarrassed, many took the crisis in stride, inured by the constant – though far less widespread – outages triggered by the huge electricity deficit stymieing the development of this would-be Asian power.

Hospitals, factories and the airports switched automatically to their diesel generators during the hours-long cut across half ofIndia. Many homes relied on backup systems powered by truck batteries. And hundreds of millions ofIndia’s poorest had no electricity to lose.

CBS News’ Sanjay Jha reported thatDelhi’s ever-congested roads turned to complete gridlock in places Monday morning as traffic lights went dark. Police tried to man some of the busier intersections in the sprawling city.

The outage in the eastern grid came just a day after India’s northern power grid collapsed for several hours. (Click on the player at left for a full report).

“The blackout might have been huge, but it wasn’t unbearably long,” said Satish, the owner of a coffee and juice shop in centralDelhiwho uses only one name. “It was just as bad as any other five-hour power cut. We just used a generator while the light was out, and it was work as usual.”

The crisis was the second record-breaking outage in two days.India’s northern grid failed Monday, leaving 370 million people powerless for much of the day, in a collapse blamed on states that drew more than their allotment of power.

At 1:05 p.m. Tuesday, the northern grid collapsed again, energy officials said. This time, the eastern grid and the northeastern grid went with it.

In all, 20 of India’s 28 states – with double the population of the United States – were hit in a region stretching from the border with Myanmar in the northeast to the Pakistani border about 3,000 kilometers (1,870 miles) away.