Venezuelans reacted with despair and resourcefulness on Tuesday as nationwide power cuts closed schools and businesses, paralyzing a nation that was only starting to recover from its worst blackouts earlier this month.

The new outages, which began Monday, forced people to follow now-familiar routines: scour neighbourhoods for food in the few shops that were open or seek out the few spots where they could find a signal on their mobile phones and get in touch with family and friends. The collapse of the power grid was yet another setback for a country whose oil reserves made it one of Latin America's wealthiest decades ago.

“Venezuela doesn't stand a chance anymore, there is no life here,” said Johnny Vargas, a frustrated restaurant worker who said he wishes he could leave the country. “People can't work anymore; we can't do anything.”

In Caracas, lights flickered on and off in various districts, raising hopes and then dashing them as people once again reflected on divergent explanations from the government of President Nicolas Maduro, which alleged sabotage, and the U.S.-backed opposition, which said state corruption and incompetence is to blame.

Communications Minister Jorge Rodriguez posted a video of a fireman training a hose on smoking equipment at a power facility, seeking to reinforce his claims that Venezuela is under attack by “terrorists” executing a U.S.-led scheme to sow chaos. The U.S. and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido say such allegations are attempts to divert attention from government failures.

Sitting on a bench in a plaza, 72-year-old Armando Taioli said he believed the nationwide outages were the result of years of neglect, compounded by pressures on the power system from an expanding population. He gestured at people walking in the streets or travelling in buses and said they were adapting as best they could, but that he fears social unrest if the situation deteriorates.

“That calm, you have to be worried about it,” Taioli said.

After the last blackouts started on March 7, the situation became increasingly desperate for many Venezuelans who lost access to water because pumps failed without electricity. Looters ransacked hundreds of businesses in the city of Maracaibo. The blackouts eased nearly a week later, but many areas only had intermittent power even after the government said the problem was solved.

The new outage appeared to have affected the majority of the 23 states in Venezuela, whose steep economic decline contributed to the flight of more than 3 million people, or one-tenth of the population, to other countries in recent years. Guaido says Maduro's re-election last year was rigged, and the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Venezuela in an attempt to force the Russia-backed president from power.

Netblocks, a non-government group based in Europe that monitors internet censorship, tweeted Tuesday that network data shows 85 per cent of Venezuela was offline “with little evidence of recovery.”

Debit cards are a common form of payment in Venezuela, where cash is scarce and hyperinflation hit several years ago. Without power, the cards weren't working on Tuesday. So some shops that were open gave meat and dairy products to customers in hopes of getting paid later, since the goods won't last without refrigeration.

Shopkeeper Jose Ferreira, 59, said he'd rather give to a stranger and hope for payment later than lose everything. “There are still honest people in this country,” he said.

Rocio Perez, 31, bought a kilogram of meat on credit.

“I'd like to buy more, but I have to cook and eat it immediately to avoid problems,” Perez said. “I don't even want to think about getting sick.”

Associated Press journalist Clbyburn Saint John contributed from Caracas.