Chennai - Unrelenting rains

Chennai is going through its worst monsoon in 100 year history, and everyone in the city have been impacted in one way or another. Experts have already put the loss(so far) estimate of 150,000,000,000 INR, which is close to 2.5 billion USD. And there is forecast for more rains.

The death toll so far has been put at 450.

What makes this worse is that it pretty much made Chennai an island, cutting off all means of transport to leave the city, for a week.

Chennai's climate can be put under categories as hot, hotter, hottest and sometimes it does rain in monsoons(last quarter of the year). The city has been realing under shortage of water, for the last several years. Chennai relies on several water reservoirs, around Chennai to fulfill its needs.

I had witnessed Mumbai 2005 rainfall, when it poured heavilly throughout the day, and recorded close to a meter of rainfall in one single day. The financial capital was able to get back in a couple of days to normal life. What makes Chennai rains even bad is the duration of the crisis, which lasted a week. I am confident that Chennai will get back to normalcy soon, despite rumours of more rains.

A good article about Mumbai Vs Chennai rains.

The monsoon started at November first week or so, when the water reservoirs started filling up and ensured that Chennai will not have a water crisis.

Noone then, knew that a new crisis was looming.

The rain on November 16 hit a 10 year record of close to 25cms. This is the time when things started to look bad. On December 1, it rained close to 50cm in a single day, when situation became critical, and the crisis began.

Why did it rain so much?

It is said that there were multiple factors leading to heavy shower :- Freak weather whipped up a perfect storm

Main factors:-

  • El Nino effect is said to be one of the factors(not main) causing heavy formation of dense clouds.

The El Nino is a weather phenomenon resulting in warmer than expected ocean temperatures in the central and eastern parts of the tropical belt of the Pacific Ocean.

Apparently, something that cannot be gauged.

The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has established that the Indian Ocean’s temperature in October 2015 was the record hottest.

The rise in temperatures in ocean has lead to formation of dense clouds that was carried along with the seasonal monsoon.

  • Freak weather condition causing intense rainfall.

On December 1, the lower-level moisture supply was high and upper air evacuation of the moisture was also strong. We call this phenomenon upper air divergence, and the effect is that the cloud becomes very intense. Both coincide very rarely,” ...

  • Persisting low pressure area in Bay of Bengal, causing prolonged intermittent rainfall.

What made this a crisis?

I believe the main reason for this crisis is because of the water opened from reservoir, which could not flow to the sea quickly. Reservoirs were filling up quickly and water had to be released in large quantities due to its capacity limits and hence avoid a bigger catastrophe. The reservoirs were filling up not only cause of rain, but also water coming from different areas.

Some news claim the following reasons:-

  • Encroachment near rivers - This caused flooding to various prime areas in the city.
  • Garbage dump near drains - Improper garbage disposal meant blocking of drains.
  • Not enough precautionary measures - Chennai does not usually receive this much of rainfall, so local officials were not expecting this.
  • Poor response to November rains - Nobody predicted that things would get worse after November rains, and hence the issues were not attended to, at a serious scale.
  • Clogged drainage system - Lot of areas were water logged due to blockage of drainage system. Even after the rains cleared, water level did not recede, and electricity remained cut.

May be this disaster could not have been averted, but may have been mitigated.
May be some lives could have been saved by alerting, but then would it not create havoc, if you ask some people to evacuate? What are the consequences of creating panic?
Lot of anger against meteorological department who have been giving news but not enough forecast. The met department justify that El Nino effects are difficult to predict.
May be water could have been released from reservoirs prior to the heavy rainfall, so that less water can be released during the rainfall. But then, the risk of not receiving rainfall, will be a crisis felt in summers. How much time does one have to make a decision, and make that big call, of what is greater good?

What happened during the crisis?

1 December rain brought Chennai down to it knees. Several reservoirs around Chennai started opening gates, which eventually flooded Airport, crippled railway tracks, damaged several roads within the city. Water inundation meant power had to be cut.

  • Roads blocked due to water logging cause of which no taxi operator were willing to ply
  • Several arterial roads of the city were blocked
  • Several areas near the rivers were flooded with 12 feet of water
  • Airport flooded leaving several passengers stranded for hours, till they got the news of a complete airport shutdown for several days
  • All trains arriving and departing Chennai were cancelled leaving passengers stranded at the station
  • Water logging meant power supply cut for days
  • No power meant cell phone towers were down for several days, and mobile batteries eventually drained out leading to absolutely no communication
  • No boats available to commute during medical emergency
  • Several rumours were spreading via social media, to those who were still connected :-
    • "reservoirs have collapsed"
    • "crocodiles in park have escaped to living areas"
    • "there is an earthquake in Indonesia"
    • "NASA has predicted hurricane in Chennai"
  • Prices of basic commodities like milk, water shot up
  • ATMs and banks were not operating, and many left penniless
  • Several societies running diesel generators to sustain power eventually ran out of fuel, and no pumps were operating for good 2 days
  • FM and radio had become the only lifeline for getting updates(old ways are still the best ways)
  • Snakes finding new habitat in houses
  • Overflowing drainage into houses

This rain has affected not only Chennai, but also affected several nearby areas like Kancheepuram, Cuddalore.

Some pictures at the wire

How is Chennai bouncing back?

  • There has been a substantial reduction in rains for the last few days, cause of which water logging has reduced in most parts of Chennai, as on date.
  • Local buses are operating at free of cost till December 8. Train & flight services have partially/fully resumed.
  • NDRF(National Disaster Relief Force), Army and Navy, have deployed forces at a war like situation.
  • There has been an overwhelming amount of help from people in Chennai, several areas from Tamil Nadu and several states in India.
  • Several NGOs have come forward to help stranded people with food, water, clothes and bed sheets.
  • I believe the ones not affected in Chennai are helping the ones affected.
  • Several days, there were choppers flying around, delivering food and rescuing people.
  • Mobile medical services are now available at various parts and several helplines for various emergencies.
  • There were overwhelming number of volunteers and good Samaritans who were willing to provide food and accommodation.

Chennai Citizens Form Human Chain To Rescue A Biker Caught In The Floods

Coordination among relief providers has always been a concern during crisis, and remains one. Media and Social media played a helping hand in notifying about places where help has not reached.

Some medical advices to protect from common diseases for Chennaites:-

  • Boil and drink water and don’t trust bottled waters(it could have been under stagnant water)
  • Cover legs with polythene while walking in water or clean your legs with antiseptic, post venturing outside
  • If stranded in water logging areas, call for help and don’t be a hero. Help will come to you, you are not alone.
  • Cook your own food; be it simple porridge. Safer than outside food. [If possible!]
  • Save your mobile battery; use messages than calls.

Hopefully, we are now ready to withstand coming onslaught of rainfalls(if any). One thing that this rain has brought out, is the unity among Chennaites.

A Crisis Always Reveals a Person’s True Character

This crisis has truly revealed Chennaites' helping hands, and its spirit cannot be broken.

Dinesh Gunasekar - | Tags :
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