Chennai airport shut amid heavy floods

A flood-hit area in the state capital Chennai. Thousands of factories were shut as the heaviest rainfall in over a century caused widespread flooding across Tamil Nadu.
A flood-hit area in the state capital Chennai. Thousands of factories were shut as the heaviest rainfall in over a century caused widespread flooding across Tamil Nadu.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CHENNAI • India has deployed troops to Tamil Nadu and closed the main airport after heavy rains exacerbated weeks of flooding that have killed nearly 200 people in the southern coastal state.

The heaviest rainfall in over a century caused widespread flooding across Tamil Nadu, driving more than 200,000 people from their homes, shutting factories and paralysing the airport in state capital Chennai, government officials said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ordered rescue teams and paramilitary forces to launch an extensive relief and rescue operation in Chennai. "At least 10,000 police personnel and trained swimmers are being deployed to help with the rescue effort," said Chennai police chief J.K. Tripathy. He said 186 people had been reported killed in the floods, now in their fourth week.

The authorities said thousands of rescuers carrying diving equipment, inflatable boats and medical equipment were also battling to evacuate victims across the state.

"We have started the rescue operation but the biggest challenge is to find a way to clear the inundated airport and main roads," said Mr Anurag Gupta, a senior official at the National Disaster Management Authority in New Delhi.

The floods swilled over the runway of the international airport in India's fourth-largest city, emergency officials said, and about 25 flights were cancelled as of yesterday morning, the national emergency operations centre said. Thousands of passengers were left stranded. The authorities said the airport would remain shut until at least today, hampering efforts to get relief supplies in. The city of at least six million, like many other parts of India, lacks an adequate drainage system.

At least twice as much rain fell in the last 24 hours as the average for the whole month of December, private weather forecaster Skymet said. Indian Meteorological Department head L.S. Rathore said the rain was expected to continue "for at least the next 72 hours".

Mr Ramana Goda, 56, said his family was stuck in an area where 3m of water covered some roads. "The police want to help but there are no boats. We are trying not to panic," said Mr Goda, who took refuge at a police station after fleeing his home with his family overnight.

Thousands of factories on the outskirts of the city were forced to close due to disrupted power supplies. Chennai is a major auto manufacturing and IT outsourcing hub for companies including Ford Motor, BMW and Infosys.

The shutdown was the second in less than a month, crippling production and deliveries from the region.

Ford, Daimler and Nissan were among the carmakers who told employees to stay home yesterday. "Everyone is at home. Yesterday, workers were sent home after a half day, and today we are shut. Tomorrow too, probably," said an official at Daimler India.

"For the safety of our employees, we have halted production at our Chennai assembly and engine plants," a Ford spokesman said.

A Renault-Nissan India spokesman said it would be cancelling shifts, but aimed to resume operations once conditions improved.

India's Chennai Petroleum Corp may shut one of the three crude units at its 210,000 barrels per day (bpd) Manali refinery in the state, managing director Gautam Roy said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 03, 2015, with the headline 'Chennai airport shut amid heavy floods'. Print Edition | Subscribe