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COLOMBIA WILL CUT POWER TO HOMES 2 HOURS A DAY

Colombian homes will suffer power cuts averaging two hours a day starting Monday as part of an emergency program to save electricity, the government said Saturday.

Colombia was forced to impose rationing because a hot summer and a prolonged dry spell have depleted reservoirs, cutting the generating capacity of hydroelectric power stations that provide much of Colombia's electricity.The power cuts will affect only residential areas. Industrial sectors, hospitals and military bases will be exempted.

"Rationing starts from next Monday," Mines and Energy Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo said. "It is going to be a rationing equivalent to 3 percent of the total demand in the country.

"In terms of hours, this is equivalent to two hours a day in the residential zones," he said.

Restrepo asked Colombians to save energy by switching off lights and appliances when not needed.

Officials said rationing was expected to last for three months. The rainy season usually starts at the end of March, but Restrepo said rationing would have to be increased if the hot weather went on beyond that.

The rationing program will affect residential areas in every city in the country.

Reservoirs are at only 28 percent of capacity, down from 62 percent a year ago, according to local news reports.

Some Colombian officials are blaming the prolonged dry weather on "El Nino," a climatic phenomenon that produces hot air barriers in the atmosphere, preventing the arrival of rain clouds.