Storm Wreaked Havoc on Businesses

Shoppers turn to Internet only to find that websites were down or deliveries were delayed, sometimes by days.

Facing the country’s worst storm in 60 years, Israelis went online to order food, but in many cases suppliers couldn’t deliver. The supermarket websites crashed from the heavy traffic and sometimes, provided wrong information.

Mega, Israel’s second-largest food retailer, said traffic on its website was heavy throughout the country, with orders up 30% in the north, 75% in Jerusalem, 80% in Tel Aviv, 50% in Be’er Sheva and Afula, and double in Rehovot.

Restaurants and fast-food outlets were also deluged with orders: Daniel Rahamim, CEO of the delivery company Mishloha, saying the number of takeaway orders was 150% higher than usual during the storm. But suppliers had trouble delivering the goods.

Rami Levy, the discount supermarket chain, notified customers Thursday that deliveries would only resume Sunday, but shoppers in the central region who tried to place orders through the site on Saturday were told to expect their orders only on Wednesday.

Super-Sol, Israel’s biggest supermarket chain, said on its website that all its Jerusalem branches were open on Friday except for the outlet at Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem, even though the snow had all but brought transportation to a standstill. As it turned out, its branches at Talpiot, Kanfei Nesharim and Pisgat Ze’ev were closed.

Eran Vider, vice president of supermarket chain Bitan Wines, said he couldn’t process any more online orders after the number had jumped by 50%. “We’re working with one delivery company,” he said. “We didn’t bring in more companies in advance for these days because it’s not justified on a day-to-day basis.”

Restaurants and fast-food outlets were also unprepared and many customers suffered a long wait for delivery.

Moving onto telecoms, cable and satellite television providers as well as mobile operators were deluged with calls from people having problems with service. Iced-up satellite dishes and power failures took their toll. The companies said it would take days or even weeks to address all the problems, and at a huge cost.

Bread deliveries on ice

Snowbound Jerusalem’s two big bakeries - Angel and Berman - said their trucks couldn’t make their way around the city on Friday. Angel alone was left with 50,000 loaves of challah, according to owner Yaron Angel, as the company geared up to hand out the bread for free.

Tnuva, the country’s biggest food maker, chained its trucks’ tires in Jerusalem Wednesday night and was able to deliver to all stores that remained open Thursday, but Friday morning none could reach the city. “We believe the stores that opened had enough stock, which will be refreshed when we get approval to enter the city,” spokeswoman Alona Arieli-Lahav said.

While Israel Electric Corporation crews worked to restore power to as many as 60,000 homes at the peak of the storm, CEO Eli Glickman was enjoying a vacation overseas with his wife. The couple left last Sunday when the storm was already forecast and ended up cutting their holiday short. Glickman returned to work Saturday morning to face the emergency.

The Knesset Economics Committee is due to meet Tuesday to debate the IEC’s failure to prepare for the storm. “Estimates cite hundreds of millions of shekels of damage to industry and trade, agriculture and infrastructure,” said MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor), a member of the panel. “The government must fix this now, not with words and press conferences but with action to return things to normal and make necessary changes before the next storm.”

With families stuck at home, television viewing shot up. From Thursday to Saturday - the storm’s peak days - an average Israeli watched 886 minutes of TV, some 15 hours, a 20% increase over the same time last year. News programs drew the most viewers, with Channel 2’s “Ulpan Shishi” winning a 23.5% share and the Friday night news capturing a stellar 32.5%.

Vegetables will cost more

When Israelis return to their supermarkets this week, they’re likely to find that prices for fresh vegetables have risen due to the storm. Farmers suffered 100 million shekels ($29 million) in damage, most of it in the center and south of the country, according to preliminary estimates. Greenhouses were blown down and field hands can’t harvest.

“The cold weather is delaying crops from ripening, and farmers need to cover the costs of the damage they sustained ... damage for which they have no insurance coverage,” said Meir Yiftach, secretary of the Vegetable Growers Association. Fruit prices, save for bananas, should remain steady as they were harvested long before the storm and kept in cold storage.

At least consumers were ready for the coming storm. Business was actually up 50% last week from the November average for clothing and shoe stores, according to Retail Information Systems, which monitors cash-register sales.

Moshe Amir, CEO of fashion chain H&O, said some stores had run out of children’s jackets. Department store chain Hamashbir Lazarchan reported a 50% jump in sales for winter goods and said it had run out of standard electric-fan heaters.

Avi Bar-Eli and Rina Rozenberg contributed reporting.

Dor Kadmi