The past week had been horrendous as the “Detroit of India” faced the most dangerous and unexpected torrential rains – Yes, the Chennai Floods. The rains that might break a 100-year record as the highest amount received so far!
I’m sitting here, in Hyderabad, writing this post, with an immense sense of relief knowing that my loved ones are safe and out of any unforeseeable danger.
Having been born and brought up in Chennai and witnessed all the best and bad moments all these 25 years, this has been the worst of them all, including and especially the Tsunami. Those who are from Chennai or are in Chennai now, will whole-heartedly agree with me on this.
Oct-Dec is Chennai’s usual North-East monsoon season or the retreating South-West monsoon (as commonly called), which gives abundant showers that suffices the crop cultivation for the next year, cools down the excessive temperature it had witnessed the past months and brings genuine joy to its inhabitants. I have experienced all such monsoons – waded through dangerously pot-hole-opened streets, played in those waters, eaten ice-creams, read novels with a steaming mug of coffee by the bedside or the veranda (which I absolutely love doing till date!), walked the roads with friends and just admired the beauty Chennai emanates, smelt the rain-soaked earth and I cannot even begin to explain the joy and fun I have had all through my school and college days, which I wont do now because its going to take up the whole post and moot the actual point.
Since early November, light to moderate showers had started as per seasonal schedule and as usual, Chennai was prepared. Or at least she thought so. But Nature apparently felt extremely bored and loved to test her “Tolerance” level this year but lost considerably to Chennai’s ever-existent resilience and people power. By people power, I really and honestly mean ONLY people power and not the Government. But last week, November 30th, something strange happened. It started raining weird. By weird, I mean the light flooding of the main arterial roads like GT Road, high level roads and strong windy showers. By evening, Bay of Bengal saw sudden depression and the coasts started flooding.
We thought it was going to look like another Tsunami, but thankfully it was not. But hey, it wasn’t good either. By Monday night, if I’m not wrong, the city suddenly plunged into darkness. Assuming it was the usual power cuts that occurs, people were still prepared waiting for it to come back in the middle of the night. They woke up to Tuesday morning with no power and an addition – to street floods. Simultaneously, line-by-line, power went out starting from the main city to deepest of villages, disconnecting the entire State from outside world, till yesterday evening when certain areas started to receive them depending on the intensity of the water draining.
I cannot give you first-hand experience of the rain because, fortunately or unfortunately, I was not there. But from what I saw in the News, I can tell you this – it was absolutely horrifying!. Water level started increasing to dangerous levels and people ran out of food and out of their houses. Low-level houses were completely submerged, cars overturned or stacked one on top of the other and even stuck in one of the many opened pot-holes making the main roads completely inaccessible. Bikes, buses, trains and even flights, for crying out loud, became mere objects of no use. The Chennai Airport became flooded, which was the main thing that shocked me. Water started seeping into the Airport’s waiting lounges from the flooded runways, which was apparently constructed on top of a water body. By Tuesday evening/early Wednesday morning, things became worse – bridges and dams gave way due to over flooding beyond its retention capacity causing water to seep into the mainland sparing not even a single road in the entire State; even highways connecting Chennai to southern districts.
Boats emerged with the Indian Navy manning them and soon, Ola, Uber and NTL got their boats and started rescuing stranded people from their homes to relief centers. Food and basic necessities started diminishing at an alarming rate by Tuesday midnight and people, literally had nothing to eat, drink or wear drier clothes. Chennai felt helpless and now to top it all, it was named a “Disaster Zone” due to no fault of it.
But to the relief of all, the youngsters started taking matters into their own hands. Volunteers emerged; the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) came as a blessing to the civilians. Army officials started pouring into the city, spreading themselves all across the State to start rescue operations immediately before something else happens. Social Media – especially Facebook and Twitter saw a boom in SOS cries. News Channels like India Today began calling Ministers on their phones who, apparently had other “pressing” issues. There was still no power and now, the telephones and ATM joined them. All mobile phone signals and landlines were gone and ATMs stopped chugging out cash and transport was possible only by foot.
The skies suddenly saw choppers all over rescuing people ranging from pregnant women, disabled elders, school children, and even pets. Food started draining out. Vegetable markets were completely under water. Price of basic commodities sky-rocketed. And the water, was still coming in making the State, look like an island from an Aerial view.
Something had to be done and the Govt still were in another world. Wednesday evening saw theaters and shopping malls open to public despite the flooding, providing shelter to everyone that needed them. Relief materials like food packets, biscuits, water bottles, medicines, dry clothes, toothbrushes, tooth pastes, soaps, towels, rice, wheat, vegetables, fruits, milk and even some cash was donated by people from other states, even from NRIs abroad. Students even started cooking meals for three times a day, all by themselves. RJs and Actors took to the road and started managing end-to-end of sending all these materials to the affected by keeping track of Social media requests, suggestions, phone numbers, addresses, etc. Some of my friends even took the pain to visit their other abroad friends’ family by foot to check on them. One of the best, were the collated information of details in the form of Google docs that made life a little easier.
Thursday and Friday still saw no luck on the power front but Social Media were still covering everything, that Indian Media should have. Facebook saw students from all over the world trying desperately to get in touch with their elderly parents, their friends and to know the level of water stagnation in their respective areas. Flights were cancelled. Railway tracks looked like another lake. Corporate companies saw water inside their buildings.There were more people seen on terraces than inside their houses or streets. It was a depressing sight. Truly.
But Chennai managed to get back up despite all this with the power of its people, the humanity that still prevails and of course, full support from its own who are helpless in other parts of the world. Though not fully restored to normalcy obviously, but it is at least limping its way towards it. I can assure and reassure myself that Chennai could withstand anything and everything that Nature throws at us, even without a single support from the Govt.
Friday evening blessed the city with power in most areas helping me to finally talk to my mum and friends which was relieving to a great extent but the first hand encounters they told me on how they faced the rains and flood, were truly scary.
On a more lighter and a happier note, this was what the Army officials had to say after all the work they had done – “Chennai is the only place where we saw more volunteers than victims!” – A Proud moment for us!
So, what did this teach us?
This and only this.
“Humanity Wins Over Everything Else.”
Until later! 🙂