Losses Top $2.2 Billion as Chennai Seeks Support on Twitter

Heaviest Rains in a Century Shut Down Chennai
  • Record rainfall, floods cause `total chaos,' trade body says
  • Indian city gets respite; Royal Enfield maker shuts plants

As the flood-ravaged Indian city of Chennai got some respite from torrential rains, a trade body said losses to businesses from the record downpour could reach more than 150 billion rupees ($2.2 billion).

Water released from overflowing lakes and reservoirs wreaked havoc across a vast swathe of the metropolis of 9 million and surrounding areas, with the monsoon season’s death toll climbing to 269. As authorities struggled to deal with the disaster, activists, film stars and executives started campaigns on social media including Twitter and Facebook for rescue and relief. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India termed the situation as “total chaos.”

“The city has come to a virtual standstill and is in the grip of fear and panic,” Assocham said in a statement on Thursday, urging the federal government to “immediately” handle this “extreme crisis” with a suitable package.

Air Evacuation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out on an aerial survey of the broken city, while the Indian Air Force started evacuating hundreds of passengers stranded at the local airport, which is expected to be shut at least until Dec. 6. Apollo Tyres Ltd. expected a production loss of 450 metric tons at its factory in the outskirts. The state administration has advised manufacturers to keep their operations shut till Dec. 7, BMW AG’s local unit said.

Small and medium enterprises, automobile, engineering, information technology and tourism are among the sectors which are the worst-affected, Assocham said in the statement on its website.

The government of the state of Tamil Nadu, whose capital is Chennai, said it deployed senior officials to undertake precautionary measures in three districts, distribute food and shift people to higher ground. Television images showed residents in almost neck-deep, brown water in many neighborhoods as local fishermen and volunteers helped ferry the elderly, women and children in boats.

Relief efforts were proving to be challenging as some roads have been washed away and telephone networks were down, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told lawmakers on Thursday.

Royal Enfield

Shares of Chennai-based TVS Motor Co. have slumped 7.1 percent this week, the worst since July 2014. Apollo Tyres had its biggest loss in more than a month. Chennai Petroleum Corp., a unit of Indian Oil Corp., slumped 5.1 percent, the most in a month, after saying it may shut one or two of its three crude units in Tamil Nadu.

Local operations of Ford Motor Co. to Infosys Ltd., the nation’s second-biggest software maker, remained shut for a second day. Eicher Motors Ltd., which makes the Royal Enfield motorcycles, said it closed its two plants near the city and lost about 9 percent of its output in November.

Additional Flights

As many as 34 aircraft, including those of budget carrier SpiceJet Ltd., were stuck at the airport. Of those, at least five each belonged to Jet Airways Ltd. and state-owned Air India Ltd., according to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24. The nation’s biggest airline IndiGo had two of its own stuck there. It said it will operate additional flights from nearby Bengaluru to accommodate passengers fleeing Chennai by road. 

Some relief came on Thursday from the weather department, which downgraded an earlier forecast for heavy rainfall to “light to moderate” for the next few days in the city. When asked if the worst was over, L.S. Rathore, director general of the Indian Meteorological Department told reporters, “Hopefully. We have to be watchful for the next 48 hours.” 

Chennai saw a record 1,218.6 millimeters of precipitation in November, three times more than normal, according to forecaster Skymet. The northeast monsoon typically sets in between October and December over India’s east coast, where Chennai is located.

Radio stations and television channels formed partnerships to help people reach out to families and authorities, while Twitter started as many as three hashtags to connect the stranded and rescue volunteers. Facebook activated its recently-introduced "Safety Check" feature that identifies and checks on people in the vicinity of natural disasters.

Power outages to prevent electrocutions added to the misery. One Twitter user sought help to rescue 200 colleagues from an office building with no electricity, while another looked for food to feed his infant.

Assocham, the trade body, attributed the disaster mainly to “unplanned growth.” “Authorities in all metros should review their disaster management plans at regular intervals and make long-term plans to improve drainage systems,” it said in the statement.

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