x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Businesses tally Sharjah blackout toll

Hotels emptied and retailers in the emirate had to cut short their hours during three days of power cuts.

An RBS branch without power in the Aldurrah Centre Offices.
An RBS branch without power in the Aldurrah Centre Offices.

SHARJAH // Businesses were counting the cost of Sharjah's power cuts yesterday as electricity was finally restored after three days of blackouts. Hotels without power were the worst hit. A spokesman at the Firdous Hotel said all their guests had checked out because of the recurring blackouts. Seif Mohammed of the Al Majjarah Hotel said the power failures had cost them more than Dh200,000.

"Before the power outage the hotel was full, the occupancy rate was at 100 per cent, but now it is completely empty," he said. Wholesalers and retailers were also suffering. Houshang Khonji, who owns a garment shop in the Sharjah industrial area, said he had lost about Dh35,000 in the past week while the power in his store was going on and off. "In the evenings we just closed the shop as no one can buy without lights," he said. "During the day few customers were patient enough to stay looking for clothes in a shop with no air conditioning."

Mr Khonji was affected at home as well. He had to take his family to a 24-hour hypermarket in Dubai to stay cool on the first day of the power cuts. On Wednesday night they went to the hospital in al Qassimi and sat in the reception area until morning prayers. "My children could sleep on the hospital benches as we sat with other affected families watching a television set," he said. Other businesses, however, were not complaining. Stores selling portable generators and lights did a brisk trade, as did hotels with power, and in nearby emirates, were booked to near capacity as families tried to keep cool. Petrol stations also experienced an upswing in demand as motorists refuelled to use their cars as rolling refuges.

Shoppers seeking both air conditioning and lighting were coming to see Faisal Ejjaz, who said his shop had sold more than a dozen portable generators in the past few days, far more than usual. He believed that any move by the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (Sewa) to announce when power shortages would occur and their expected duration would help him to make more money.

"The problem is that people keep on thinking that the power problem is being settled soon but it isn't," he said. "If Sewa could release a load-shedding schedule that showed the crisis would last for a week or more, many people would buy our generators." Anwar Kanana, of Kanana Electronics Trading in the Nabba area, said he had sold rechargeable lights worth Dh6,000 in the past three days. Those left in the dark were also stocking up on lighters, matches and candles at local supermarkets.

"It would take me more than a month to sell the same amount of lights without the power outages," Mr Kanana said. Hotels that still had power during the cuts elsewhere also did well. The Sharjah Rotana Hotel in the Nabba area was about 80 per cent full during the blackouts, well in excess of usual off-peak summer demand, as residents seeking to escape the heat checked in, said Tariq Hassan, its deputy director.

"We had more families checking in after their homes were left in dark," he said. The Ajman Beach Hotel was doing even better than the Sharjah Rotana, with 100 per cent occupancy on Wednesday as families fled their homes. "By 10pm on Wednesday the hotel was full," a spokesman said. "Our staff could just apologise to those families that kept coming in after that time." There was some hope yesterday after power had been restored in most of Sharjah. Most areas previously without power had their service restored by 9am following a long night's blackout in areas including al Nabba and Abu Shagara. Power was also restored to most of the industrial areas, which are usually hardest hit by the shortages.

Many residents rejoiced as their air conditioners and refrigerators began functioning again but remained sceptical of how long they would stay that way. "I think we shall have it for some few weeks before it blacks out again like it has done recently," said Ahmed al Hajj, 34, an Emirati resident of al Buhaira Corniche. Sewa could not confirm whether the crisis was over. "All areas have power today, that's all I can tell you," a spokesman said.

ykakande@thenational.ae