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Chennai submerged

After a thumping defeat to South Africa in the recent cricket ODI series, India was looking for payback. India emerged one up after the first test match. Looking forward to the second game, India looked in good form. The match looked perfectly poised for another India win. Rains, however, washed away the game. Chennai is set to host the next test match. However, a washout seems inevitable considering the incessant rains that the city has been a witness to in the past week. Leaving the cricket aside, the real problem is a crisis-like situation that has been created by these rains. It is a crisis that has taken the city by surprise. In the past week, Chennai has experienced massive rainfall, leading to floods and chaos. From November 16 to 17, the city witnessed 246.5 mm rainfall in 24 hours. What Chennai saw in those 24 hours was the highest rainfall in the last 10 years, according to the Met department. However, at 235 mm, last weekend’s rainfall is not even the worst amount of rains the city has  ever witnessed. The Nungambakkam rain gauge recorded 270 mm on October 27, 2005; 280 mm in 1969, and 450 mm in November 1976. The death toll in the state due to incessant rains has gone up to 87, according to latest reports. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa took stock of the situation on Wednesday and announced compensation packages. Meanwhile, rescue and relief efforts by multiple State and Central agencies, including the Army, National Disaster Response Force, Coast Guard, Police, and revenue authorities are still underway in the city and the rest of Tamil Nadu.

Authorities at the Met department further stated that rainfall will continue to persist in Chennai at least over the next week. However, the extent of the damage will be hard to predict. They further added that rain is harmful when the density increases in greater proportion. However, a breather was on offer, when it was also confirmed that there would not be the sort of rain density that the city had to suffer from in the last 24 hours.  Unlike rains every year, this year has been different because such chaotic weather was not caused by a cyclone or a storm. It is instead the low pressure, which originated from down south in Sri Lanka and eventually moved northwards. Anjali Airiyanayagam, a resident of Chennai, spoke of her first-hand experience of the rains. She confirmed that the most developed parts of the city with a good drainage system have been flood-free. However, there are places in the city that have been suffering from acute floods causing trouble for many inhabitants. Chennai seems to be up for a tough time. In the event of such rains, disease prevention becomes a matter of grave concern. The state government has set up 216 medical camps (17 mobile and 199 other camps) in Chennai, 106 in Kanchipuram, and 89 in Tiurvallur District. “Disease prevention steps are being held in full swing,” the Chief  Minister said. 

As is the case with most natural disasters in India, officials in the city did not pay heed to the warnings issued by the Met department. According to news reports, the Met Department had alerted the city’s officials of an above normal rainfall in September. Although officials from the Corporation of Chennai made tall claims of preparations, it is abundantly clear that not enough was done. Prior to the rains, the city corporation had issued statements detailing the quantity of silt already removed from drains and boasted of super suckers, jet-rod machines, and desilting machines used to clear water off the roads, among other measures. Suffice to say, all these tall claims were washed away by 24 hours of rain. The internet was filled with images of local citizens using boats to travel from one part of the city to another. Taxi operator Ola has even deployed boats along with professional rowers to rescue people in the waterlogged areas to safer places. Students at IIT-Madras were seen taking boats, ferrying them from their hostels to their respective examination centres. However, at the heart of the current crisis in Chennai, is that the infrastructure required for commerce has replaced the infrastructure to withstand natural shocks. Moreover, questions will also be raised about the multi-crore storm water drain projects in the city and their technical inability to mitigate the current crisis. Questions will also be raised on the desiliting contracts that were issued to various companies. Several crores have been spent on such projects and contracts over the past two years. In fact, to add insult to injury, earlier last year, a Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) engineer wrote a letter to senior officials, detailing how a multi-crore storm water drain project at Koyambedu was executed without concrete reinforcements or cement but with quarry dust. For the uninitiated, Koymanbedu is one of Chennai’s busies locations that handles thousands of inter-city buses. As for the test match, one can only wait, watch, and pray.
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