A great man was once said, “A hero may be defined as the man who lets out most of his space to accommodate others in moments of crisis”. Suffice to say, many in the flood-ridden city of Chennai deserve the tag of ‘hero’. Although the city has been battling Mother Nature day after day, many have opened the doors to their homes to accommodate strangers stranded by the rainfall.
On November 30, there was a notice circulated over Twitter with home addresses of many who were willing to provide shelter for their fellow citizens. The recent floods have been the worst that the city has witnessed in the last 100 years.
The average rainfall for all of December in Chennai is 191 mm, according to Skymet. On the morning of December 2, the city had already received almost double that, at 345 mm of rain. All flights to and from the city have been cancelled because of a waterlogged airport.
Approximately 700 passengers have been locked in at the Chennai airport. Electricity has been cut off in many parts of the city, due to fears of electrocution. Many citizens are stranded on rooftops without food and water. The damage to property has been massive. Along other parts of the coast, the story is much the same.
The situation in many parts of Chennai and Pondicherry is so dire that the army and navy had to be deployed in order to execute rescue operations. Meanwhile, the Indian Railways has announced the cancellation of 23 trains with 11 being diverted to separate regions.
If the situation persists, Chennai might just witness a lockdown with no modes of transport remaining to carry people outside the city. Minister of State Railways, Manoj Sinha also spoke to the media stating that these drastic measures had been taken as passenger security was of extreme priority.
The Indian Meteorological Department Director LS Rathore said that the current onset of rains will persist for three more days, mostly in the coastal regions of Tamil Nadu. He further said that people residing in the low-lying regions of Chennai are unsafe and they should move up to higher ground immediately.
Private telecom giant Airtel has also announced uninterrupted service with free internet for all. With the rains in Chennai beating all sorts of records, things have taken an extremely brutal turn. The death toll has risen to 188, according to latest reports.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken on All India Radio, announcing that he would grant absolute support to Chief Minister Jayalalitha and the people of Tamil Nadu in their moment of crisis. A special grant of more than Rs 940 crores has been sanctioned for relief.
Some reasons for the devastation are entirely the fault of the city’s administration – rapid urbanisation, destruction of critical wetlands and inadequate infrastructure. Additionally, Chennai’s geography precipitates the situation: the city is spread across a low-lying area and is flat like a pancake.
The average elevation of the city is only about 6.7 metres above mean sea level, with many neighbourhoods actually at sea level.
This makes drainage a challenge even under regular circumstances. Apart from the Cooum and Adyar rivers, Chennai’s periphery once hosted a massive wetland which provided a natural flood control barrier in the past.
The Cooum has now been reduced to a massive, stinking sewer that snakes through the heart of the city, heaped with the waste generated by the metropolis. Rampant encroachment and urbanisation in its upstream reaches have sapped the ability of the Adyar River to carry flood water.
Another key waterway, the Buckingham Canal, is also choked with silt and sewage. So, when Chennai floods, there aren’t enough unobstructed channels for the water to get out. And a rapidly expanding city has decimated the critical Pallikaranai marsh, which acted as a natural flood sink.
The government has already spent large sums of money to clear up Chennai’s rivers and resuscitate its sewage infrastructure. But most of it is just good money gone down the drain.