COLOMBO: Sri Lankans endured a third straight day of blackouts Wednesday, with families sleeping outdoors to escape the heat and businesses stockpiling fuel as a crippling power shortage grips the island.
Authorities warned Sri Lankans they must slash their energy use in coming months or face extensive power cuts as a severe drought bite into hydroelectricity production in the Indian Ocean nation of 21 million.
The cabinet ordered street lighting be reduced and instructed state institutions to curb energy usage by 10 per cent, as hours-long rolling blackouts left millions sweltering across the country.
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Daily restrictions were imposed Monday but Sri Lankans outside the capital Colombo, where power has not been interrupted, said random periods of "load shedding" had been imposed without warning for the better part of a week.
Some businesses were hoarding fuel for generators, fearing the situation would not improve.
The shortages conjured up memories of a major power shortage in 1996, when the island went without electricity for four straight days.
On social media, images of parents and children sleeping in their cars with the air conditioning running generated sympathy -- and anger -- as blackouts dragged into another day.
The government announced Tuesday it was abandoning efforts to stimulate rain through "cloud seeding" after they failed.
About a quarter of the island's electricity is generated by hydro plants but capacity is approaching zero after the monsoon failed to bring adequate rains.
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The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka said it would seek legal action against the state-owned Ceylon Electricity Board after receiving complaints about unscheduled power cuts being imposed across the country.
The board said the drought forced them to rely on coal-powered generators, which frequently break down, causing the cuts.
The 1996 mass power cut followed a similar pattern, when a lack of rain saw hydroelectricity supplies plummet.