Cities & Architecture

Rains Take Chennai

December 3, Wednesday, 4.15 pm: Volunteers continue to pool in their efforts and resources to aid the thousands in need – especially those stranded in Saidapet, Tambaram, Ekkattuthangal, Tiruvanmiyur and surrounding areas – by coordinating on chennairains.org. On Twitter, the hashtags #ChennaiMicro and #ChennaiRainsHelp are being used to collate calls for help and offers of assistance.

According to news reports, at least 197 people have lost their lives so far while a crowdsourced map shows over 2,000 waterlogged roads in the city. The meteorological department has forecast rains for the next 48 hours with the heavier showers likely to recommence on Wednesday evening. A previous estimate of Rs.8,400 crore’s worth of damages is also expected to double.

Earlier in the day, actor Kamal Hassan told Firstpost that the “entire system has collapsed” in the state and accused the government for overspending on corporate projects and underspending on civic ones and demanded to know from the government where the taxpayer’s money was going.

“When our state is in distress they are asking for donations to do what we appointed the government to do. Of course I will pay because I am constrained to respect the government’s authority. The reason I pay is not to be perceived as one of the rich who suck on people, because I am not. I love my people truly. All this drama of rich and poor is a farce, though. The politicians give a damn about social equality as long as they remain in power,” he said.

December 3, Wednesday, 2.47 pm:

A man moves to a safe place from flooded Kotturpuram during heavy rains in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

A man moves to a safe place from flooded Kotturpuram during heavy rains in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

People wade through a waterlogged road following heavy rains at Porur in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

People wade through a waterlogged road following heavy rains at Porur in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Rescue workers transport evacuees in a rubber boat through floodwaters following heavy rains in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Rescue workers transport evacuees in a rubber boat through floodwaters following heavy rains in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

People stand and seek help to rescue them from water-logged road following heavy rains at Porur in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

People stand and seek help to rescue them from water-logged road following heavy rains at Porur in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Army personnel rescuing people during their flood relief operations in rain-hit areas in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Army personnel rescuing people during their flood relief operations in rain-hit areas in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

A vehicle moves on a water-lodged road during heavy rains in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

A vehicle moves on a water-lodged road during heavy rains in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

People rescue from their water-lodged houses during heavy rains in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

People rescue from their water-lodged houses during heavy rains in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Trains stranded at a railway station near flooded tracks after heavy rains in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Trains stranded at a railway station near flooded tracks after heavy rains in Chennai on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

December 2, Wednesday, 9.10 pm: Southern Railways has cancelled all trains out of Chennai Central for tomorrow (December 3). The city’s airport is to remain shut till December 6. Simultaneously, naval airport 70 km west of Chennai is being readied to receive supplies from the Navy. Air India is also set to make a test-landing there – if successful, then authorities could prepare it to receive civilians who want to evacuate the city.

December 2, Wednesday, 8.21 pm:

December 2, Wednesday, 6.30 pm: Some scenes from around Chennai…

December 2, Wednesday, 6.01 pm: There has been a brief let-up of rains since the morning although there’s been a steady drizzle. People in the city, especially along the beach and in the central parts, are venturing out to stock up on consumables before the showers arrive again, which the IMD has said will happen around 8.30 pm onward. The rains overall could potentially last the next 72 hours.

In the meantime, those stranded in offices and their homes have been relaying pleas for help over Twitter. In return, others have been opening up their homes to provide shelter, offering to transport food, recharge mobile phones and relay messages – though the ratio of those in need to those providing help remains very large. Following yesterday’s crowd-sourced list of shelter options that went around, a list of doctors became available this morning. Union telecom minister Ravishankar Prasad also announced a week of free calls on BSNL in Tamil Nadu.

Additionally, leaving the city has been made more difficult. The airport has been flooded and declared shut until tomorrow while Southern Railway has cancelled 17 trains. Those brave enough to drive out have also been disappointed: two principal access routes – the Chengalpet-Tambaram GST Road and the Poonamallee-Maduravoyal Road – into and from the city have both been cut-off.

December 1, Tuesday: After breaking the all-time record for rainfall for the month of November, Chennai kicked off the last month of the year with over 200 mm of precipitation on a single day. Already, over 180 lives have been reported lost while life in the city has come to a standstill. Schools, colleges and offices have been declared closed for Wednesday (December 2). Earlier in the day, the government also issued alerts for people in some areas of the city to evacuate, although it was unclear whereto, following heavy flooding of the major roads as well as blocked drains. The Regional Meteorological Centre has forecast more rains, just as intense, over Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur over the next 48 hours.

In the meantime, many residents have opened up their homes to accommodate those in need – a full list is here. Our Google Maps map (above) on the navigability of various roads in the city is also open to edits. Stay safe, folks, and venture out only if absolutely necessary.

November 19, Thursday, 3.10 pm: Is Chennai set for another week of thunderstorms? Weather-bloggers in the city are actively tracking the prospects while weather.com provides some early indication.

More rains are in the offing for Chennai, following a cyclone-landfall that left large parts of the city underwater. Source: weather.com/Google

Bittersweet stuff. Source: weather.com/Google

November 17, Tuesday, 12 pm: Anantha from Chennai updates – “The Pallavaram-Thoraipakkam 200 ft Radial Road is clear on both sides from Pallavaram to Kamakshi Hospital. Yesterday’s flooding at the Kilkattalai signal has cleared.”

November 17, Tuesday, 11.30 am: Sashi Nair, a resident of Chennai since 1983, chips in about what could’ve gone wrong during the three-day spell of rains.

Frankly, I have never quite experienced something like this since I moved to Chennai in 1983. It’s not just the water on the roads, the flooded streets and by-lanes, but the pervading mood of fear and helplessness.

There are people I know (relatives and friends) who have spent 24 hours and more at home without electricity. The elderly have sat in sofas and chairs whole day long waiting for water that entered their homes to recede. I can of course go on and on…

The Chennai Corporation may be doing its bit but it has come too late in the day. The havoc caused by rains in Chennai is a yearly occurrence. So, are adequate preventive measures ever taken? Hardly. It’s crisis management most of the time.

It’s easy to blame the administration, but citizens must do their bit as well. When will we ever learn to stop throwing garbage into the street or dump plastic bottles and offal into drains, for example? When will we ever learn to take pride in our city and take care of it as we would our home, and keep our surroundings clean?

When will the administration understand it is high time that unbridled construction activity must be stopped in the city? That the surviving water bodies must be protected and nurtured. That it is not enough to earmark funds for de-silting and clearing clogged storm-water drains, but it is proper supervision and the quality of such work that matters. That engaging 20,000 and more Corporation workers in the crisis management exercise does not really help score points. That points are scored and goodwill earned when you engage in constructive and good work through the year.

There are many lessons to be learnt. But will we ever? There are times when it is hard not to feel despondent. And there are also times when a depression in the Bay of Bengal clearly tells you that how premature it is to even think about smart cities.

November 17, Tuesday, 9.15 am: “Chennai wakes up to clearing skies after a week, like a child, face smudged with tears, before breaking into a smile,” quips Lakshmi Nair, Chennai.

November 16, Monday, 3.20 pm: Onion, potato and tomato prices are going up. Lakshmi Nair from Chennai has written in –

With heavy water-logging in Koyambedu, the number of trucks bringing vegetables and other perishables into the market has been much lower. Moreover, several head-load workers who left for their homes in the villages for Deepavali have not been able to get back to work thanks to the inclement weather. So, as local television channels Sun TV and Puthiya Thalamurai reported, fewer workers to unload sacks from trucks has spiked the rates per sack up from Rs.30 before the rains to Rs.50-100 after. Now, wholesale prices of onion stand at Rs.55/kg, with retail in the city at Rs.65. Tomato – wholesale: Rs.85/kg, retail: at least Rs.95/kg. Potato – retail: Rs.49/kg.

veg prices

November 16, Monday, 1.10 pm: There are some happy sights around the city as well, many of whose residents have checked in saying they haven’t experienced power-cuts or flooded roads. Much of the worst scenes are in and around Perumbakkam, Tiruvanmiyur, Adyar, Kilpauk and Anna Nagar – in the low-lying parts of the southernmost and northernmost reaches – as well as in poorly drained pockets around the city.

November 16, Monday, 11.51 am: More visuals coming in – of subways turned into ponds and breached lakes and canals spilling over to flood entire areas.

November 16, Monday, 11.38 am: The scene at Forum Mall in Vadapalani:

November 16, Monday, 11.05 am: Chennai has always enjoyed a reputation as one of the four biggest cities in the country, with a population of 4.3 million. However, the strength of its public infrastructure that supports the livelihoods of these people is frequently called into question by seasonal rains. Heavy downpours on November 14 and 15 have been no different.

November 16, Monday, 10.30 am: While roads seemed to hold on the first day of rains, by Monday morning, Chembarabakkam, Patravakkam, Ambattur, Koyambedu, Anna Nagar, Thillai Ganga Nagar and Vadapalani areas reported severe flooding and traffic-jams. Additionally, news has come in of Mandaveli, Nanganallur, West Mambalam, Kilpauk, Anna Nagar, Tambaram and Chromepet areas facing power-cuts for 12 hours or longer.

November 15, Sunday, 10.20 pm: It isn’t the first time Chennai (like most other cities in India) has dissolved under a cyclonic spell of rains. The meteorology department has forecast thunderstorms for a week in Tamil Nadu’s capital while 59 people have been reported dead around the state. A holiday has been declared for schools and public institutions on Monday. According to various people, there have been no power cuts yet – but roads have become inundated, sometimes with overflowing sewage, train tracks have disappeared from sight, and Internet connectivity has been affected in various parts of the city including in Mandaveli, Adyar and Nanganallur. Here are some pictures and tweets from our readers.

  • ashok759

    There are important lessons to be learnt from this great human tragedy, one set relating to the challenges arising out of climate change, the other about the state of our cities, a long way from being smart.

    • Vaidya

      Underground breaches direct into sea is not advisable for Chennai infrastructure. Proper draining out system has to be laid on sides of the road considering the level flow, and proper connecting the lakes / rivers into sea has to be done if require by removing certain constructions constructed on the lake / river bed areas. As everyone’s responsibility, we should stop using plastic bags, and stop through plastic bags on road side and canals.

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  • Eileen

    This is an eye opener for chennai and for cities like chennai that lack proper infastructer. They say that the canals and breaching to the lakes are all flooded as well and over spilling . Is there any possibility of the corporation making underground breaches direct into the sea. Just a suggestion !
    It can at least reduce the level of the floods and the level of death rate in the city.

  • Baskar Alvar Maniccam

    Chennai is at near sea level—at the front lines of climate change. Chennai has a terrain slope varying from 1:5,000 to 1:10,000. It is a low-lying area and almost like a pancake. It rises slightly as the distance from the sea-shore increases but the average elevation of the city is not more than 6.6 m above sea level, while most of the localities are just at sea-level and drainage in such areas remains a serious problem. Apart from plain terrain lacking natural gradient for free run-off, the sewage system was originally designed for about just over half a million population at 114 lpcd of water supply. Later it was modified during 1989-91 even then it has not reached the required capacity. Due to dumping of garbage and massive reclamation, marshland especially in south Chennai ahs reduced to one-tenth of its size.

    City is drained by Cooum River, Adyar River in addition to many major & minor drainage channels through Buckingham Canal to Sea.Tamil Nadu government has built a slum resettlement colony along the river channel and multi-storeyed housing estates have come up which blocks the natural drainage of river basin into the sea. The original silting pattern was shifted due to the development. Moreover, sewage and industrial effluent dumped into the canal and silting have left the waterway stagnant.

    Chennai is built on a floodplain, development has essentially gone unchecked: Chennai’s critical infrastructure—like the airport, automobile manufacturing plants, and IT centers as well as thousands of houses—has been built over streams and marshes, and plastic bags clog drainage networks. Chennai’s infrastructure has strained to keep up with the rapid growth. Due to this, the surface run-off is too high and the infiltration capacity of land has gone down drastically. Due to the increase in impervious areas, Chennai experiences severity of floods during every heavy rainfall.