In Chennai Floods

Life is funny. When one thinks that he or she has experienced the worst or best and there can be nothing more to it, it comes back with a vengeance to say you have not seen anything yet. 2015 has been a year of highly high and lowly dumps for me personally. It had been an event full year. But the last two months topped it all.

Chennai, India for most part is a busy, bustling, growing metropolis full of hardworking young crowd. It is a coastal city, in a rain shadow region so far most part is water starved. Season for us is best described as hot, hotter and hottest. I happen to live in a busy suburb in Chennai. The rainy season here happens to be from October 21st to December 15th and mainly by way of storms.

Now, on last week of October it was raining in the weekend and we at home were enjoying the first spell of rain, listening to its different sound, that of it falling in the roof, in tin shed, floor, in the flowing water and so on. We were appreciating the smell of sand that follows the first spell of rain, the cooling of the   ground and what it can do to the garden. Simply put we were happy for the rain. Not aware of what is to follow.

Next day I wake up at dawn, open the lock in the main entrance, notice that there was water logging in the road but things were otherwise normal. That day being holiday went back to bed to get up after an hour. When I woke up again and touch down the floor, I have a shock of my life. There is this three inches of water in the floor of my bedroom, no the entire house. Water has entered through the main door from the road to the porch and to the inside. The whole house was marooned.

I wake up the entire household. We clean. Call up the municipal administration guys to complain and asked them to rectify the situation for the flood was due to flooding in the road following a block in the storm water drains.

Since it was only our house that has got flooded the interest among the neighbourhood was of curiosity. But then they asked us to move in to their place. Meanwhile we cleaned the place, picked up the important documents and valuables and set of dress and moved it to our relations apartment in the city where they were staying in higher floors.

Simultaneously the rain was intensifying. As someone remarked, contrary to normal parlance of saying it is raining cats and dogs, it was raining elephants and dynasaras.  It showed the signs of breaking previous records for rainfall. It also exposed the weakness.

Over a period of years, our house which was three feet above the road level has reached a stage where it was on par thanks to layering of the road every time they constructed. The norm is for the top layer to be removed and new one should be laid. This was not only for us but for the entire  city and most affected are the older houses.  We found out that the newly laid storm water drains are inefficient for there was gaping holes in it. The drains were not laid according to the principal of capacity, gravity, flow and not connected. The pumping station gets flooded and might not work in times of need.

It flooded again after few days. This time impact was on more houses. Rain water started coming in through the front door and in addition through the drains. The level this time were higher. We cleaned it once again.built a wall in the front door for about a feet. Stocked sand bags. Plugged the drains so that we can close it when it is raining there by preventing water from entering through the source.

By this time, the situation has gone from bad to worse. All the lake, reservoirs, canals, water bodies were full. Ground water was saturated. Any more rains it was going to be difficult.

Then it started raining heavily again. BBC weather had predicted 50cm rain. Nobody took it seriously for no one can visualise what it can do to the city.  Having the major ways of ingress plugged, the water started gushing in from the floors, through the micro gaps in the tile joint, where the floor joins the wall and door joints. Then we decided to move out. We switched off the mains locked the house and moved to a hotel in the city. A journey of half an hour by car in normal times took six hours for it was raining still, roads were flooded and the entire city was driving home at the close of office hours.

By this the damage was wide spread. And we had permanently moved to a hotel in the city coming only to clean up. Say refugees in your own city. Not knowing when the rain will stop. Homes were flooded. Vehicles washed away. People marooned. Power supply was cut due to flood. Connectivity was impacted. It is a disaster.

Normally during the rains the poorer section will be affected and relief measures will be provided. What was different this time though, the rains were highest in the century, compounded by el nino, unmindful urbanisation, growth against nature, concretisation of the city and vanished waterways.  And the city infra structure was built considering the normal rainfall activity ignoring all other factors. Net result the entire city and sections of the society were affected.

Top it all one December night city administration released 49cc of water from the main reservoir of the city in the dark of the night. People in its way were caught unaware. Many places reported water of 12 feet submerging undee ground and  ground floor parking lot and entering into houses up to two levels. All their belongings washed away completely.Many casualties were reported.  Rich, poor, powerful, famous no one was spared. All included. All mayhem.

What was different this time though, in times of distress, the way people stood up and started lending hand to each other not depending upon government administration. People opened their heart and home. Strangers were accommodated. People and animals were rescued by all means and provided food and shelter. People of all faith, class, age, in short all of them forgot their societal construct and starting lending their hand in whatever form that may be. National disaster recovery team did yeoman service as usual.  There were few incidents here and there which can be considered as learning exercise. It is amazing that the city came together as one unit – as per the Sanskrit aphorism -“vasudeiva kudumbakam” meaning the whole world is one family. I have no doubt my Chennai will reclaim her glory back.

What did I learn personally out of this.

  1. Nature is powerful and superior. Before that we are none. The water that can nurture you can also destroy you when the boundary is not maintained.
  2. Unsustained development, over crowding, urbanisation has a cost attached to it and it can be heavy and we are no where near understanding the real magnitude of it.
  3. All of who talk of climate change, participate in conference, right papers about it may know about it but experience is different. This includes me.  Nature’s fury does not allow any reaction time and its consequences could be devastating.
  4. Nature is impartial. No one is spared. Social media had pictures of Mercedes, Audi and many high end cars damaged in the flood and being transported by bullock cart to repair shop. It is for all of us to think and take care.
  5. Time for us to go back to the life principle – “Waste not, want not”