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Hazira, Surat units still flooded

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Telecom services paralysed; Modi seeks Rs 2,000 cr as interim relief

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Ahmedabad/Mumbai, Aug. 9

Although the rain fury has subsided in South Gujarat, there was no immediate relief in sight for industrial units in Surat and adjoining areas as the city continued to be flooded, in some places as deep as 20 feet.

The diamond-and-silk city is facing acute shortage of food, potable water, electricity and essential commodities. Telecommunication was impossible as landlines and mobile phones went dead, leaving the administration to turn to satellite phones and ham radio for communication. In order to put the telephone exchanges of the public sector Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd there back on its feet, the Army was rushing 3,000 litres of diesel from Vadodara for running generators.

Briefing newspersons after an aerial survey of Surat and other affected areas, Major General S.N. Handa, General Officer Commanding (GOC), Golden Katar Division, said the Army has rescued around 4,000 people in Surat district during the last two days. He said that in all, 16 columns of the Army, each comprising some 60 men, had been deployed in Surat.

For the second consecutive day, the Hazira gas processing complex of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) remained shut. This plant receives around 40.5 million standard cubic metres per day of gas from the company's Bassein offshore field.

According to ONGC, the situation was reviewed by a high-level internal team headed by Director (Technology and Field Services), Mr U.N. Bose.

ONGC has installed an INMARSAT Terminal for communication. Portable generators have been sent and are being installed, said the company. The plant will be restarted after the waters recede.

Floods also disrupted the company's natural gas production for the second day. ONGC's South Bassein and B-55 fields in Mumbai offshore remained shut for the second day, while the ONGC-Reliance-British Gas-operated Panna, Mukta and Tapti fields did not produce any gas and was forced to cut down on oil production as well.

This had its trickle down effect with Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd shutting down some of its plants at its Vadodara complex, citing non-availability of fuel from ONGC's gas facility. The units will be shut till normalcy in supply is restored, said IPCL.

AV Birla Group company UltraTech Cement has stopped operations at its grinding unit in Magdalla, Surat. The company said it is assessing the losses, if any, as a result of the shutdown.

The Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has urged the Centre to provide Rs 2,000 crore as interim relief to Gujarat.

Train services to and from Surat were halted and civilian vehicular traffic was being stopped at places as far away as 30 km and 40 km from Surat. Around 210 roads in the State, mainly in Surat district, have been damaged, causing traffic problems.

News agencies said that with the help of the Navy, helicopters and boats were pressed into service to rescue 70 people marooned at an ONGC gas plant in Hazira. ``So far, seven persons have been rescued from the Hazira plant by SeaKing helicopters and operations to rescue others are on,'' a Defence Ministry spokesman said.

"The floods are going to have their impact on diamond exports from India," said Mr Bakul Mehta, Chairman, Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council. (The country exported Rs 53,000-crore worth of diamonds in the last financial year).

"The situation is grave. Surat accounts for 55 per cent of India's diamond polishing business," said Mr Bakul Mehta. There was little information on the diamond units there, contact with them being impossible, he said. The council has initiated some relief measures.

There were some reports of damage to machinery and equipment at some of units, said Mr Mehta. However, there have not been reports of loss of diamonds in the floods. The units had received advance information on the floods and the gems were moved to safety, he said.

Related Stories:
Floods force shutdown of Hazira petrochem units
Gujarat launches relief, rescue operations
Rains claim 52 lives in Maharashtra; flood alert in Gujarat

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 10, 2006)
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