Once again this week a manhole in the center of Rio, on the corner of Avenida Rio Branco and Rua Mayrink Veiga, began spewing smoke and flames. According to the Fire Department, there was a short circuit in the underground cables. The manhole did not explode. The manhole cover did not fly into the air. No one was hurt in the incident.
There have been at least 14 “manhole incidents” in Rio this month. A couple of them have exploded sending manhole covers soaring, injuring people; some have been severely burned.
A street vendor who works near the Avenida Rio Branco manhole, Lourival Rufino, said he was scared. “It is now pretty common. Those things explode and people get hurt. I have to work. I can’t get hurt,” he told reporters.
A taxi driver who parks near the manhole said he thought urgent action was called for. “It is just not possible to let this be (acabar em pizza – end up in pizza). Its like we’re walking around in a minefield in Rio. Nobody knows where the next problem will be. The people responsible for this must be punished,” he declared.
It has been announced that City Hall and the local Council of Architects and Engineers (Crea) will sign an emergency contract with a specialized firm to study the problem, which is said to consist of monitoring some 500 manholes and 50 subterranean transformer chambers.
Meanwhile, Rio electricity distributors, Rioluz and Light, along with the gas company (CEG), say they have technicians examining all underground networks.
A commission of experts from the Crea reports that most of the underground electricity system in Rio de Janeiro has gases floating around inside it.
The commission goes on to say, as if that was not bad enough, that in the very center of the city, within a four square block area, there are no less than seven manholes and all them with close to a 100% possibility of exploding.
The commission’s lead inspector, Luiz Antônio Cosenza, declared that one-third of underground chambers in the center of the city are at the limit of safety.
“Our measurements show that the underground area in the Rio city center is full of gas. Some galleries have more, others have less; but they all have gas. Around 30% of those we inspected have so much gas they could explode at any moment,” said Cosenza, who added that the gas company, CEG, was invited to send a representative to accompany the inspection but did not do so. Cosenza said the commission will now forward its conclusions to the office of the District Attorney (Ministério Público do Estado).
The National Electrical Energy Agency (Aneel) says it will send a technician to inspect the underground electricity network in the city of Rio de Janeiro so that there will be no more problems with flying manhole covers due to explosions.
“There will be a permanent inspector on duty. A team will be sent once a month to make more detailed inspections. In August, as planned, we will be making our annual inspection with a large team of experts: a rigorous, profound examination of all installations, besides looking into the services provided by the electricity company (Light),” declared the president of Aneel, Nelson Hubner.
Hubner went on to say that Rio electricity grid performance has improved recently after the rolling blackouts that occurred during the last summer when there was a spike in demand. And he said the problem of exploding manholes would be taken care of.
“Residents in Rio will be able to walk around and enjoy their very beautiful city in peace,” he declared.
As for the national grid and the delivery of electricity next summer, he said that the problems that caused blackouts in the Northeast at the end of 2009 and the beginning of this year had been resolved.
Hubner said that the Brazilian system is getting better all the time. And he concluded by saying he expects a rise of 5% in demand this year.