The eastern coast of India has witnessed several floods in the recent past. On most occasions, Odisha has been the one on the receiving end. However, this time it is Chennai – the capital of Tamil Nadu – that is suffering the wrath of nature and, from the looks of it, on an unprecedented scale. In the last few days, Chennai, its suburbs, and the nearby Puducherry have been flooded with non-stop deluge. Normal life has been hit rather hard and the army has swung into action to rescue people on a war footing. As per official reports, 269 people have lost their lives till now in the devastating floods.
The gravity of the situation can be understood from the fact that the airport has been declared closed till 6 December 2015 and the railway route, too, is completely dysfunctional. This is also the first time in 137 years that the Hindu has not been published. A number of telecom companies are already providing their services for free and the Navy and the Air Force have already been pressed into service. The city also does not have any electricity at present. Rain has also started in Andhra Pradesh, the northern neighbours of Tamil Nadu. The Indian Government has already dispatched two IAF helicopters to carry the NDRF team. Coastal security forces and medical teams have also been deployed to deal with the situation.
Narendra Modi has been in touch with Jayalalithaa and is taking stock of the situation on an hourly basis. He has also tweeted that in this hour of need the central government will provide all the necessary assistance to the people in Chennai. Chennai had been witnessing rains for the past week and the situation has only been exacerbated by the present deluge. The Aadiyar River has swelled to massive proportions owing to unstoppable rain and the Sedaipet Bridge has been submerged owing to the ferocity of the river. The houses of Mahalaxminagar Complex have been flooded owing to the waters of Nandivaram Lake.
Situation at Railway Stations
The situation at the railway stations in the city is indicative of the destruction that has been brought by the flood. At the Tambaram Station, local trains have been stationed on the tracks for the past couple of days and are waiting for permission to get going. People who have lost their homes are now looking for refuge at either hotels or residences of their relatives who live far away from Chennai. The poor people are presently either at rescue camps, that have become highly crowded, or at railway stations. The railway infrastructure of Chennai has also been affected badly as a result of the floods and at least 50 trains to the city have either been cancelled or diverted to other locations because rail tracks at many places have been flooded. Manoj Sinha, a Minister of State for Railways, has said that right now the government is giving utmost priority to keeping the passengers safe.
The scenario at the airport
Flights from Chennai have already been cancelled till 6 December 2015. Around 3500 people are stranded at the airport. The cancellation of flights from Chennai and to the city started after 8:30 pm on 1 December 2015. For the time being, INS Rajali, a naval air station in Arakonnam will serve as the make-shift airport for commercial flights and also as a base for large Air-Force rescue planes to land. The Indian Air Force is also trying to build an air bridge between Chennai and the base.
Condition of Residents in Chennai
Chennai has been officially declared a disaster zone and it is being acknowledged that the city is not safe anymore. People who are staying there are facing food and shelter-related crisis. There is no mobile network as well in spite of the best efforts of the telecom companies to provide service at this hour. In the low-lying areas, the telephone towers are not working at all.
Matter of Concern
Members of the political fraternity have already come forward and given their opinions regarding the horrific situation in Chennai. Rajya Sabha MP Kanimozhi has termed the situation to be bad while saying that she would not want to blame anybody. President Pranab Mukherjee has expressed grief at the loss of lives and the severe infrastructural damage that Chennai has suffered. The Indian Government has already asked the media to devote maximum possible coverage to the issue so that the people can be made aware. The Chief Minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, has expressed grave concern at the ongoing situation and Rahul Gandhi has come forward and asked all Congress workers to help people. The Rajya Sabha members have also offered to spend their MPLADS funds for rescue and relief operations. PM Narendra Modi took an aerial survey of Chennai and announced a relief of Rs. 1000 crore for Tamil Nadu.
OP Singh, the Director General of the National Disaster Response Force, has said that various NRDF teams have already saved more than 500 people on 4December 2015. According to several media houses, more than 20,000 people have been rescued so far. NDRF is presently coordinating the relief activities on behalf of the national government. It has also started a 24/7 helpline – 1078 – for this reason. However, given the critical condition of the telecom infrastructure in the city, there is some doubt as to how well this may function. The Southern Command of Indian Army, headquartered at Pune, is leading the rescue operations being carried out by the Indian Army.
Here are some helpline numbers for people in need in Chennai:
Indian Navy: +914425394240
Indian Army: 9840295100
Chennai City: 1070
Chennai Corporation: 1913 and 044-4567 4567
In addition, several individuals have come together to help the affected with food, blankets, accommodation, donations, boat services, etc. Some were found rescuing the stranded people and animals.
Steps by Tamil Nadu Government
J Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, is expected to perform an aerial survey of areas such as Kanchipuram and Tiruvallu, along with Chennai in order to take a better stock of the prevailing situation.
Predictions by the Met Department
The Met Department has no good news for people in Chennai as it has predicted that this downpour will perhaps continue till 6December 2015. The situation is no different in some other parts of Tamil Nadu that are located near the coast as daily life has basically been thrown completely off the track. The people who live in low-lying areas have already been requested to move to safer locations. LS Rathore, the Director General of IMD, has said that even though the rain will become less intense in a day or two, it will still continue throughout the week. The Met Department has further said that West Bengal and Odisha, too, could receive such rains this week.
Steps Taken by the Corporate Sector
The telecom companies, meanwhile, have come forward in an effort to help the people of Chennai. BSNL has announced that people will be given additional talk time and Airtel has also made talk time free. It is also providing internet data for free and will not disconnect connections in the interim in cases of unpaid dues. Various startups such as Zomato are pooling in their resources to help people in need by offering free food for the affected. A new website has also been launched to provide information on food, rescue, shelter, etc. IT companies such as HCL, Wipro, and TCS have already closed their offices and made arrangements for their employees to be accommodated in the office premises. Google is also trying to play a role in rescue operations through its crisis response activities.
Man Made Disaster?
According to Google Earth this disaster is in many ways a result of human actions rather than the wrath of nature raining down on hapless humans. It has specifically blamed the urban development of the city for the present situation. A number of lakes and marshes, which were originally part of Chennai’s landscape, have now been covered up by large flats and other human establishments. It is common knowledge that when there are sufficient water bodies and trees in a place, then the water cannot accumulate. It gets absorbed. However, in the absence of such features, it is but natural that the city will be flooded every time there is exceptionally heavy showers.
Now the question that comes up is how such instances can be prevented in future. What has been done so far cannot be undone. However, more unplanned urban development has to stop. There needs to be proper planning to ensure that the events of this flood are never repeated. More trees need to be planted and lakes and other water bodies have to be allowed to remain as they are. What has happened in Chennai is just a precursor of things to come and all cities in India need to learn. If allowed to go unchecked, then the situation will only become worse in the future.