CHENNAI • The Indian military struggled to evacuate thousands of residents stranded in the southern state of Tamil Nadu yesterday as the death toll from flooding rose to 269 after the heaviest cloudburst in more than a century.
Predictions of incessant rainfall by the weather office meant that the army had to work on a war footing to rescue survivors trapped in inundated parts of Chennai, India's fourth most populous city.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has blamed climate change for the deluge, travelled to Chennai to get a first-hand view of a rescue effort that has, so far, been halting.
"Chennai has become a small island. This is unprecedented," Home Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament. "Rapid rescue and relief is the need of the hour. We are working very hard to restore normality."
After auto manufacturers and IT outsourcing firms suspended operations on Wednesday, state-run Chennai Petroleum shut down its 210,000-barrels-per-day oil refinery due to the heavy flooding.
There was sporadic rainfall yesterday, after a 24-hour cloudburst dumped as much as 345mm of rain on the city earlier this week.
Floods cut off basic services for more than three million people and hampered rescue efforts by the army, which has so far evacuated 18,000 people from rooftops and outlying villages.
The city authorities were deploying bulldozers to repair collapsed roads, while several bridges were submerged as urban lakes in the low-lying coastal city of six million overflowed.
Train services and flights to Chennai remain cancelled and the navy has pressed fishing boats into service to transport people from the worst-hit suburbs to temples, schools and wedding halls.
A senior federal official said more than 1,000 people had been critically injured and were rushed to government hospitals by paramilitary forces. The federal government has pledged US$141 million (S$199 million) in immediate relief and launched a survey to assess losses to life and property.
Experts said haphazard construction work, faulty drainage and a build-up of rubbish contributed to the flooding.
Tech enthusiasts across India joined hands to help those stranded by the flooding, using social media to crowd-source information to supply food, top-up mobile phone credits and offer refuge.
Volunteers and companies are using online tools, such as Google documents, and social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, to organise their own crisis response.