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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Outage Brings Big Businesses to a Standstill

Large companies closed their offices, trading shut down, tons of meat went bad and taxi drivers started demanding 5,000 rubles ($180) for a ride from Paveletsky Station to Domodedovo Airport.

The cost of Wednesday's power outage in Moscow and four nearby regions was impossible to calculate by evening, but it looked set to run into the billions of rubles over lost income and disrupted services.

Vostok-Service, a large textile firm in southeastern Moscow, had to postpone signing a contract with a U.S. delegation due to the power outage.

"The damage will be mostly to our reputation. We were trying to show that we are a normal country, that we haven't got bears walking our streets, and this hasn't helped," said Vladimir Golovnyov, a senior manager with the company.

Vostok-Service told 550 workers from its main office to go home at about 1 p.m., two hours after the outage started.

"We have been forced to go back to 1950s accounting methods. Everything is being done by hand," said Vladimir Yefimov, general manager of the Katerina Hotel in the heart of the capital's main business district near Paveletsky Station.

Outside the hotel, thousands of office workers, sweating in an early summer heat wave, tried to hail taxis after being sent home by their offices in Riverside Towers, the Aurora Business Centre and the Paveletsky Tower.

Dozens of international giants, including Brunswick UBS, Ernst & Young, Mitsubishi Electric, Unilever, Cisco Systems, SAP, Procter & Gamble and PricewaterhouseCoopers, told staff to leave after the outage shut down computers, elevators and air conditioning.

The heat got to more than people. Workers at Tula chicken farms south of Moscow pounded air holes into walls after the birds began to suffocate, Interfax reported. One farm let 90,000 pigs out of barns to keep them from dying from the heat.

The nation's top two bourses, RTS and MICEX, halted trading for more than two hours. "We've got electricity here, but a lot of our traders spread around town are experiencing problems, and we've stopped for their sake," said Vadim Yegorov, a MICEX spokesman.

Traders said the outage would not have a considerable impact on stock prices, which were expected to give up some ground after a rally Tuesday.

"It just doesn't look good. After all, we are a national capital, a major financial center, and here we are, not able to trade," said Igor Azarov, a trader of second-tier stocks at the Aton brokerage.

He said the outage was "just the latest example of Russian-style bungling."

Large factories appeared to have the most to lose, as the outage brought production lines to a halt.

"The conveyor belt is dead, the fridges don't work, and the meat is getting spoiled," said an employee at the Tagansky Meat-Processing Plant, Interfax reported.

Stores sent back 2 1/2 tons of sausage. "Obviously, it is damaged goods now," the unidentified employee said.

The plant said it would sue UES, the national power monopoly, for damages.

Small businesses are usually more adept at coping with power failures and probably faced little if any financial losses, said Alexei Abramov, an official with a small and mid-size business lobbying group, OPORA Rossii.

He said, however, that companies would have a hard time suing for whatever damages they do sustain because they would have to "prove that [UES] was directly responsible for the outage."

Some cellphone users reported problems making calls, but most got through after several tries. The three main cellphone operators – Mobile TeleSystems, Vimpelcom and MegaFon – blamed the connection failures on a surge in calls as the news of the outage seeped out.

"When the media reports that metro cars have stopped in their tracks, everyone tries to reach their relatives and friends to find out if they're all right," said Pavel Nefyodov, a spokesman for Mobile TeleSystems. "The overload continued for two or three hours and then eased gradually."

"Caller traffic in the afternoon was comparable to what we see on New Year's Eve," said Marina Belasheva, a spokeswoman for MegaFon.

MGTS, Moscow's fixed-line operator, said late Wednesday that it had not experienced any interruption of service. Earlier, it had warned that it might have to cut service to some subscribers.

But some Internet providers went

offline altogether, while traffic slowed down considerably for many of those that continued operating.

"Our traffic chart during the day looks spasmodic," said Mikhail Ushakov, a spokesman at Yandex.ru, the popular search engine. "At 11 a.m., it fell to the level of a typical [slow] Saturday morning. Then it rose again, then gave up again, and so on."

The Central Bank warned that some bank transfers and ATM services may have been affected.

Passengers heading to Domodedovo Airport in the south were left stranded at Paveletsky Station after express trains stopped running to the airport. Areas south of the city center bore the brunt of the outage.

Gypsy taxi drivers, who usually ask for 1,500 rubles for the trip to the airport, began charging 5,000 rubles, Interfax reported.

No. 2 airline Sibir, which flies out of Domodedovo, said about 20 passengers failed to show up for each of its flights, Interfax reported.

A Domodedovo representative said no flights were unaffected by the outage.

Staff Writer Denis Maternovsky contributed to this report.