A Special Report by Sethu Nagarajan
(English Translation by Srinivasan Soundararajan and Dr. G. Venkataraman)
The residents of Chennai, the capital of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, are panic- stricken at the very mention of the word ‘rain’. No tsunami, no earthquake, but mere droplets of rain have devastated this flourishing city. Whilst the inhabitants were eagerly awaiting the festival of Deepavali at the beginning of November, they got instead warnings of a storm coming their way from the Bay of Bengal. On 7th November, vicious rain consumed the district of Cuddalore with some ferocity.
Cuddalore, located in the basin of the region, was submerged in four days of incessant rain and flooding. Neyveli, in one single day received 470 mm (19”) of rain, resulting in the shut-down of its massive thermal power station. Cuddalore was hit again by sheets of water. Varuna, the God of Rain’s wrath did not end there. Events continued to gather pace in the Bay of Bengal. Rain continued to batter the northern coastal districts of Tamil Nadu. Chennai, Kanchipuram and Thiruvallur districts experienced heavy, but intermittent rain from 13th November. By the 20th however the rain and winds picked up speed. In the next 2 days these areas were subjected to 250 mm of rain. Cuddalore by then had become a ghost town and Kanchipuram was devastated. In 3 days, 400 hundred lakes went from half-full to overflowing. Chennai’s water reservoirs were in danger of bursting their banks, and so, vast amounts of water were released, leading to major flooding of the rivers Cooum and Adyar, which flow through the city. Large areas in and around the city were inundated.
Coastal dwellers abandoned their homes and belongings and fled for their lives. Usually Chennai receives about 407 mm of rain in November each year, but this year it received 1218 mm, making it the highest in 131 years of recorded history. The inhabitants of Chennai were learning the perils of getting in the way of the torrential force of water. The delta regions of Thanjai, Nagai as well as coastal districts further south, such as Nellai and Thoothukkudi were severely affected. With barely 2 days of respite, the rain started again on 1st December. Chennai, which had barely coped with the first onslaught, was now drowning. In Tambaram 490 mm of rain fell in a single day, threatening to break the rain gauge, with 290 mm in the city. Next, Chembarambakkam and other lakes started filling up rapidly. Without any due warning that night, 70,000 cubic feet of water were released, causing the Adyar river to breach its banks. The rain, which until then had largely afflicted the poor, now started to hit the wealthy.
The metropolis of Chennai was frantically struggling to keep afloat, with water within and all around. It was in a state of paralysis, with total loss of external communications and essential services. In one 5-storeyed building in Adyar, water had risen up to the 3rd floor. There was no milk available, nor electricity, and hence no television or radio to receive news from. Cell phones had neither charge nor signal. After this nature’s cosmic dance of fury, the whole nation turned its attention to Tamil Nadu. Help and support began to pour in. At this juncture, the social networks stepped up to the plate, providing vital help, food, clothing and other essentials. An army of youngsters and volunteers headed for Chennai. The government too augmented the relief efforts. People embraced one another regardless of race or creed. The chess maestro Viswanathan Anand and other VIPs opened their doors to welcome those affected by the flood. Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood superstar, pledged a donation of one crore of rupees (£100,000). Music director Ilayaraja, actors like Vishal and Karthi went from street to street engaging in relief and rehabilitation work. Film stars from all over the country provided funds and help. From small businesses to big corporates, all reached out to offer help and aid.
The National Disaster Management Authority was rushed in. The Navy, Air Force and Coastguard units utilised boats and helicopters to rescue marooned people and relocated them to safety. By this time Tamil Nadu overall had received 641 mm of rain, 65% more than the norm; Chennai alone had received 1605 mm, which was 130% more than the norm. Despite the destructive fury of Varuna, the Rain-God, humanity was not vanquished. Thanks to the love and compassion of its people, Chennai is rapidly recovering from this terrible destructive event.
Editor’s Note: This report is a translation from Tamil of the original piece written by Sethu Nagarajan, News Editor of Dinamalar, a Chennai based daily newspaper. We are grateful to Srinivasan Soundararajan in Chennai and to Dr. G. Venkataraman in Fareham, UK for their excellent translation into English.
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