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Losses top US$2.2b as crippled Chennai seeks aid on Twitter

Indian policemen rescue people from flood waters in Chennai, India, 02 December 2015.

[NEW DELHI] As the flood-ravaged Indian city of Chennai prayed for respite from torrential rains, a trade body said losses to businesses from the record downpour could reach more than 150 billion rupees(S$3.1 billion).

Water discharged from overflowing lakes and reservoirs continued to wreak havoc across a vast swathe of the metropolis of 9 million and surrounding areas, with the 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.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Thursday he would depart for Chennai for a survey, while the Indian Air Force pressed three aircraft to help evacuate hundreds of passengers stranded at the local airport, which is expected to be shut at least until Dec 6. Apollo Tyres Ltd predicted a production loss of 450 metric tons at its factory in the outskirts of the nation's fourth-biggest city. 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 wading through almost neck-deep, brown water in many neighbourhoods as local fishermen helped ferry the elderly, women and children in boats.

Shares of Chennai-based TVS Motor Co have slumped 8 per cent this week, the worst since July last year. Apollo Tyres had its biggest loss in two weeks, while Chennai Petroleum Corp, a unit of Indian Oil Corp, slumped 4.3 per cent, 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. As many as 34 aircraft, including those of budget carrier SpiceJet Ltd, were stuck at the airport.

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. 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.