Chennai submerged: 3,500 stranded at airport as worst flood in 40 years shows no signs of abating

The latest:

- 3,500 people stranded at Chennai airport
- Chennai International Airport closed till 6 December
- Worst continuous rainstorms in 100 years
- 15 teams of National Disaster Response Force in Chennai
- More rain expected, next 48 hours crucial
- Adyar river in spate, 35,000 cusecs discharged
- TN Chief Secretary has told Centre that the state has "enough medicines, food, drinking water"

Tamil Nadu's worst and most relentless rainstorm in a 100 years is showing no signs of letting up. Life in capital Chennai ground to a complete halt as a fresh wave of rain lashed the city where 15 teams of the National Disaster Response Force have arrived. Industry lobbies are putting a Rs.15,000 crore figure on the expected financial loss as weather forecasting agencies predict heavy rain to continue for at least the next two days.

Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha chaired a meeting of the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC), Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi directed senior officers of the disaster management division to stay in constant touch with the state government to provide any assistance necessary.

Soldiers joined the rescue and relief work and more troops were on their way from Bengaluru to Chennai, the sprawling southern metropolis with over 4.6 million residents.

The unprecedented rains, the worst in 100 years, have battered Tamil Nadu's northern districts such as Chennai, Tiruvallur, Kanchipuram and Cuddalore, the toll has crossed 190, it's now the stuff of international media headlines.

Union Urban Development Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu promised all help to the beleaguered city and other areas. The city received 49 cm of rain and Chembarambakkam, where the reservoir surplussed about 25,000 cusecs of water into Adyar river, received 47 cm of rains in the last 24 hours that flooded the city and the suburbs, uprooting people from their homes.

Flood waters reached upto even the second floor of the Housing Board colonies on the banks of Adyar river as people reached roof tops looking for rescue and relief in several parts of the city and suburbs.

 Chennai submerged: 3,500 stranded at airport as worst flood in 40 years shows no signs of abating

A view of Chennai's iconic Marina Beach. PTI

The death toll in the rains that have lashed the city and other parts of state has gone up to 197, officials said.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa will undertake an aerial survey of flood-hit Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts. According to CNN-IBN, Chennai has been declared a disaster zone.

City marooned, comes to standstill 

All modes of transport — air, road and rail services — remained suspended due to the unprecedented deluge, leaving thousands of passengers stranded at the airport and various rail terminals. Suburban rail services also remained suspended.

The Chennai international airport will remain shut till December 6, said Airports Authority of India on Wednesday after the runway was flooded.
The AAI decision follows a prediction by the IMD that there will be rain for the next 72 hours in Chennai and its suburbs, with the next 48 hours being “very crucial.”

AAI chairman R K Srivastava told reporters that nearly 1,500 passengers had been evacuated from the airport. A total of 3,500 people, including passengers and staffers, were stranded at the airport on Wednesday morning, he added. He said that 33-35 aircraft have been grounded and 119 flights cancelled since 8pm on Tuesday due to the calamity.
Meanwhile, Arakkonam, Tirupati, Tambaram and Trichy airfields will be utilised for rescue and relief operations.
The Southern Railway cancelled 13 trains out of Egmore station and four trains from Chennai Central. Ten trains from other stations too were axed, reported IANS.

With schools and colleges shut, and vast areas under water, most buses went off the roads and suburban train services were suspended. Auto-rickshaws and taxis plied in some parts of Chennai but the operators fleeced commuters. A taxi driver reportedly charged Rs 4,500 to ferry three people from the airport to a hotel. Left with no option to proceed to their destinations, many people were seen walking on the railway track even as water was rushing below with brute force.

A college graduate has hurriedly put together a website which offers information on shelter, food and important contact details of authorities, all categorised by localities. Those in areas largely unaffected by the deluge have offered their homes, hotels and rooms for shelter, while others advertise the number of people they can feed.

Public holiday declared

Several private establishments declared a holiday. The government on Wednesday issued an advisory to private sector undertakings to allow their employees to take leave or permit them to work from home on Thursday and Friday.

The Hindu and Business Standard newspapers did not come out on Wednesday due to heavy rains. The Hindu will be published on Thursday, a newspaper employee said.

No electricity, phonelines, ATMS down

Phone network---both mobile and fixed lines--were out of service even as ATMs did not function. Even in the few ATMs that were open, serpentine queues were witnessed and people stocked up on supplies in the wake of more rains being forecast for the coming days.

Telecom service providers and mobile payment solutions providers have come up with free mobile recharges to help residents stay connected.

Rescue operations by Army, Navy and Centre

While the Army and Air Force were involved in rescue work and distribution of food packets at suburban Tambaram and Oorapakkam, ships of the Navy and Coast Guard were on standby, officials said. Expert Naval divers and inflatable boats were deployed at Adyar and Kotturpuram areas to help marooned citizens.

Alok Bhatnagar, Naval officer in charge, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, said ships — INS Airawat and other amphibian vessels would arrive here tonight. The Navy was also ready with medical supplies, he said. Seven boats had already been deployed for rescue work, while shelters were ready to accommodate 200 people.

The Indian Coast Guard has shifted over 150 marooned people in Chennai, and over 1,000 people stranded at different locations were provided with food cooked on board Coast Guard ships.

The government said 72,119 people were housed in 432 relief camps, but thousands of passengers were still stranded at the Chennai airport and railway stations.

Union Urban Development Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said in New Delhi that the situation was "unheard of and unprecedented", and promised all help to the beleaguered city and other areas.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spoke to Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa last night and promised all assistance, held discussions with his cabinet colleagues Rajnath Singh (Home), Arun Jaitley (Finance) and M Venkaiah Naidu (Parliamentary Affairs) in the morning to take stock of the situation.

The National Crisis Management Committee headed by Cabinet Secretary P K Sinha reviewed the situation and assured the state of all support from the centre.

People being rescued in boats. PTI

People being rescued in boats. PTI

Weather experts forecast more rains

Adding to the worry of the citizens and administration, the weatherman has forecast rainfall over the next three days with the next 48 being very critical under the influence of a trough of low pressure and upper air circulation over the southwest Bay of Bengal and Sri Lankan coast.

Thereafter, the state will see an anti-cyclone activity which will be associated with "heavy rains" at some places. "The phenomenon will continue for the next seven days, but the next 48 hours are very crucial. Neighbouring states will also see rainfall activity," LS Rathore, Director General of Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) told reporters in Delhi.

A joint statement by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and Skymet, a private weather forecasting agency said: "Tamil Nadu's weather is under observation for the next 72 hours as the rain in the next 48 hours is going to be comparatively heavy."

As widely reported, this is the worst Chennai has seen in a hundred years.

Risk of disease outbreak

While people are hoping for the water to recede and the rains to stop, the worse will come after that. What usually follows floods are waterborne diseases. And the experts had already warned of that when Chennai was flooded during mid-November. But the situation was not even half as bad as it is now.

Director of public health Dr S Elango had told The Times of India, "Stagnant water is much more dangerous than flowing water. If immediate steps are not taken, there may be a spread of waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and malaria."

Given the situation at the moment, removing stagnant water from low lying areas in the city pose as a herculean task for the Jayalalithaa government.

With inputs from PTI and IANS

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Updated Date: Dec 03, 2015 11:31:01 IST