CHENNAI • Residents clutching babies and food thronged flooded streets in India's southern city of Chennai yesterday, braving chest-deep water to reach high ground or heading the other way to rescue relatives stranded days after overflowing lakes drowned the city.
Waters receded in some areas thanks to a lull in the heaviest rains in a century that have killed at least 280 people. But another cloud burst was forecast within hours and officials said brimming waterways were the main concern in the low-lying coastal capital of Tamil Nadu state.
"The rain is not a problem now, it is the overflowing river and 30 lakes that continue to flood four districts," a senior home ministry official in New Delhi told Reuters.
Despite combined rescue efforts by the military and civilian emergency services, help had yet to reach many areas.
Some complained about the lack of warning before floodgates were opened. The state public works department said it did issue warnings prior to draining the lakes, but the information apparently did not reach the public due to a breakdown in media and phone communications.
Police and government officials said they were investigating the deaths of 18 patients on life-support after a power failure in the intensive care unit of MIOT International, a private hospital.
Military helicopters dropped food to residents stranded on rooftops. Yesterday, the defence ministry doubled to 4,000 the number of soldiers deployed to help the rescue effort.
The government restored some commercial flights to a naval air base near the city of six million, but the main airport remained closed and completely awash. Experts say the devastation was exacerbated by industrial and residential construction across flood plains without adequate drainage in Chennai, known for its fast-growing automobile industry and IT outsourcing.
Rescue teams urged people to leave inundated regions. Only roofs in some villages remained visible. Where water had receded, masses of black mud and garbage piled up.
"We are sending technical experts and engineers who will find a solution to flush out all the floodwater. It has to be drained out soon, but we don't know how," said the home ministry official.
Mercy Relief has launched a public fund-raising campaign in Singapore to support the disaster relief efforts.
The campaign comes in response to an appeal for aid from Mercy Relief's ground partner in India, and will run till Jan 31. The funds will be used for procurement and distribution of food, water, household essentials and basic medical supplies.
The public can support Mercy Relief's disaster relief efforts via donations through various channels, including credit card donations at the NGO's website.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE