Residents of Chennai grieve about the apathy of officials and lessons that were not learned from Cyclone Vardha in 2016.
In her college days, Ambattur-based Sathya Nathan would wait to get drenched in the rains. The onset of the monsoon evoked a sense of romance in her, thanks to the plethora of movies, music tracks, and literature that influenced people’s idea of love.
“I would play maestro Illayaraja’s songs and wait for my mom to make some hot bajjis. As a family, we would sit together and enjoy the whole mood and ambience when it rained,” recalls the 45-year-old teacher.
Two decades later, while Nathan still wants her bajjis and coffee, her only priority, however, is to survive the Chennai rains.
Chennai and the neighbouring districts have witnessed heavy downpours for the past 18 hours — starting Sunday, 3 December, evening — as the cyclonic storm Michaung swung closest to the region on its way to making a predicted landfall in south Andhra on 5 December.
Many parts of the city have been without power for hours now.
#COMK #CycloneMichaung Nowcast 7:30 AM, 4th Dec.’23 #ChennaiRains
Cyclone Michaung now closest to #Chennai in its life cycle so far and showing a NW trend compared to NNW trend during the night, this is adding a complex dynamic to the impact from the cyclone over North Coastal… pic.twitter.com/PNWIFw6Kwe
— Chennai Rains (COMK) (@ChennaiRains) December 4, 2023
Issuing a red alert, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted heavy to very heavy rainfall “with extremely heavy falls” in north coastal Tamil Nadu and Puducherry for the next 24 hours — or, for most of Monday.
Natural disasters are seen as acts of God. While it may be partly true, what Chennai is witnessing is clearly the act of human action or perhaps, lack of it. For many in the city, it’s a repeat telecast of the 2015 floods caused by Cyclone Vardha.
On 1 December, 2015, Chennai was pounded as it received its heaviest rainfall in decades. A parliamentary panel report later blamed the encroachment of lakes and floodplains for the floods.
“The city has learned nothing from its past,” says an angry Vaishali Vjaykumar, a resident of Aminjikarai.
“Namma Chennai has turned into naaruna Chennai (stinking Chennai), she grieves.
Water enters house. We didn’t have water inside house even in 2015. Low lying areas will be going through terrible times. Looks like rains will continue through the day further. Along with Government, we all need to work to get Chennai out of this after cyclone subsides.Stay safe pic.twitter.com/RtPf9zgclO
— Jayaram Venkatesan (@JayaramArappor) December 4, 2023
Vijaykumar is not alone in sharing this sentiment. WhatsApp groups and social media posts are replete with voices echoing a similar grievance. With roads clogged with rain water and no sign of medical support, many took to social media seeking help.
4 people from @chennaicorp have called me, making me repeat my case again, when I’m running low on oxygen, but no help. My temporary O2 concentrator (pulse) has 2 hours left. SpO2 has dropped to 94. May God have mercy on me. #ChennaiFloods #Cyclone
— Renuka Dhinakaran (@renudhinakaran) December 4, 2023
“Engaloda situation romba mosama aguthu plz help pannunga innum kolandthaigal sapda ethume illama irukku vakkarakuda idam illama irukkom (Our situation is really bad, my children haven’t eaten any food)”, pleaded a member, residing in Kannigapuram, on one of the WhatsApp flood relief groups.
Lack of power and Internet connectivity had Shanthi Ramachandran worried about her family and close friends.
“My close friend at Ashok Nagar Indira colony and my cousin on Thiruvanmiyur’s Valmiki street had to move to a safer place from their ground floor apartment. Also, my nephew who stays on McNichols Road said that their basement is fully submerged in water. Even my grandson and my son are stranded in KK Nagar, which is full of water and we are unable to commute even a km by foot to help them,” she worries, asking if this reporter is safe.
Water entered our flat and apartment complex fully flooded with water ☔. We evacuated to the first floor 😌 Hope rain stops and the water gets drained soon.
Pray For Chennai 🙏#chennaiflood #ChennaiFloods #ChennaiRains pic.twitter.com/tzwHnpxBr1
— Induja Ragunathan (@R_Induja) December 4, 2023
Beyond this nightmare, the horrors faced by Velachery resident Valentia involved the crawlies, and it was closer home, literally.
“There were snakes in our apartment building. One was killed in a nearby block. Another tried to enter the house behind us. Since water entered into our home, we came upstairs with some essentials to stay with our neighbours,” she shares.
Like most of Chennai, Valentia and her family too have been surviving without any mobile network. “We try to switch on our phones once in a while to check the situation,” she says.
“A 20-year-old Nithya malli tree’s branches fell down in the storm last night, outside my house. I am thankful that no one got hurt,” shares Ramachandran.
Residents of Five Furlong Road in Velachery were in for a shock when a petrol bunk caved in near a construction site. The rescue operations team evacuated the area and rescued people on the road
— Yokesh (@ImYokEsH) December 4, 2023
Meanwhile, one user pointed out the state of affairs at a building in Pallikaranai.
4000 crores drainage project? Well done! pic.twitter.com/utwYPP12LY
— Poorna (@thisisannahere) December 4, 2023
While traditionally monsoon clouds are known to bring hope and cheer, in Chennai, it seems to signal disaster.