I do not remember the last time when I saw so many helicopters fly. The incessant rains in December first week left my hometown Chennai as battered like a war-torn city. Unable to cope with unfolding disaster, the state government asked for center’s help which soon dispatched the army, navy, air force, the coast guards to join the NDRF which was already assisting the state government with rescue and relief operations.
Someone photographing the earth from several kilometers high in the sky would have been baffled at the sudden appearance of numerous islands in India’s South East. The railway tracks in the city, the major roads leading to and from the city, the roads linking different localities within the city were all under water. With the airport runway too submerged the geographic isolation of the city was complete. This is probably the first time in several years that train service from the three major railway stations in the city were stopped completely. And for the first time in several years that the airport operation in Chennai came to a grinding halt. And so many people in and around Chennai became aware of the names of all the rivers, canals and lakes in and around the city for the first time in their lives.
The photos that were being relayed across the globe of the devastation would have made everyone question, ‘Is this India’s fourth largest metropolitan city?’, ‘Is this the city whose name used to synonymous with South India until a few years ago?’, ‘Is this the same city that was so strategic to the British in India that it became the only Indian city that was bombed by the Germans in World War I?’ Every locality in the city was affected by the rains. Electricity and Telecommunication were completely cut-off. Instead of resembling a major metropolis, Chennai resembled a series of islands in distress and people were just castaway in their own homes.
The rainfall received in the month of November is the highest in nearly a hundred years. The rainfall received on December 1, is the second highest rainfall in day in the past one hundred years. In addition to Chennai, four other northern districts (Kancheepuram, Thiruvallur, Cuddalore and Villupuram) and the Union Territory of Pondicherry had to bear the brunt of the cloud’s fury. The endless streams of clouds resembled the unstoppable army of Anubis from ‘The Mummy II’: These streams of cloud unleased hell on Tamil Nadu’s northern districts and crippled normal life.
Nature became a neutralizing agent that made the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the well-connected and the not-so well-connected all equal in that moment of misery. While we cannot do much about the vagaries of nature, one should not forget the fact much of Chennai’s present problem is actually man-made. The steady disappearance of lakes and ground level tanks, the encroachment of canals and rivers, reckless urbanization, greed of the residents for cheaper real estate, toothless civil administration that that did not stand firm in instances where it should have been are all the pieces in the not-so difficult to understand puzzle that shamefully managed to convert the fourth largest city in India into a ‘DISASTER ZONE.’