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Power outage rolls across Europe

More than 10 million people were left in the dark after a power shortage in Germany triggered blackouts across western Europe late Saturday night.

The incident halted trains, trapped people in elevators and plunged millions of homes into darkness in parts of Germany and France, which suffered most of the power cuts, as well as in Austria, Belgium, Italy, Croatia, Spain and even Morocco. TV stations and most movie theaters, however, emerged unscathed as they switched to emergency power supplies.

The power went down in more than a million homes in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Hesse shortly after 10 p.m. German time.

The electricity supply to most regions was restored about half an hour after the outages, and no injuries were reported.

Cinemaxx, one of Germany’s leading exhibs, suffered only minor problems due to the blackout, while main rival CineStar was unaffected.

Only one Cinemaxx multiplex in the city of Muelheim in North Rhine-Westphalia went dark due to the power failure. Although the theater was back in operation within the hour, many moviegoers who had been watching pics like “Borat” and local comedy hit “7 Dwarves — The Wood Is Not Enough” declined to wait and opted instead for free tickets for later shows.

CineStar, on the other hand, suffered no problems at any of its cinemas due to technical safeguards against power cuts.

“The projection equipment is very sensitive so we have to make sure it’s protected against possible power shortages and other similar problems,” said CineStar spokesman Thomas Schulz.

TV stations continued to broadcast throughout the power cuts. A spokesperson for ProSiebenSat 1 confirmed that its channels are protected against such power outages. Neither ARD nor ZDF were affected. Even RTL in Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, was unaffected by the cut.

German energy company E.On said the problems began in northwestern Germany, where its network became overloaded, possibly because it shut down a high-voltage transmission line over the Ems River to let a cruise ship pass safely. E.On said it had shut down transmission lines in the past without causing problems, and was still trying to discover what happened this time. The shortage caused substations across Europe to shut down automatically to prevent further damage.

In France, about 5 million people, including many in Paris, were left without electricity for up to an hour. The power outage, however, had little affect on TV stations and theater chains. The only large theater that reported a problem was La Dupleix in the northern city of Roubaix, where 500 spectators were left in the dark for half an hour. The electricity came back on after about 30 minutes and the films resumed.

One legit theater in Paris, Mogador, had to stop its perf of the musical version of “Bagdad Café” and offered auds a free ticket for another night.

The blackout affected Italy relatively marginally, with power outages lasting between a few minutes and up to half an hour in parts of the Piedmont, Liguria and Puglia regions.

Damages in Italy were limited by emergency measures put in place after a massive 18-hour blackout in September 2003 that left almost 56 million Italians without electricity for as long as 18 hours.

In Spain, power outages in parts of Madrid, Catalonia, Valencia, Andalucia and Castille-La Mancha had only a limited effect.

(Liza Klaussmann in Paris, Nick Vivarelli in Rome and John Hopewell in Madrid contributed to this report.)

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