More troops out to rescue Chennai flood victims

More than half of city areas still under water; people lack clean water and food prices soar

An Indian rescue helicopter lifting a man off a roof of apartment buildings surrounded by floodwaters in Chennai on Friday. Thousands of rescuers are racing to evacuate victims of flooding in Tamil Nadu.
An Indian rescue helicopter lifting a man off a roof of apartment buildings surrounded by floodwaters in Chennai on Friday. Thousands of rescuers are racing to evacuate victims of flooding in Tamil Nadu.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CHENNAI • India deployed hundreds of extra soldiers and relief workers to the flooded city of Chennai yesterday as criticism mounted that the government has been slow to respond to the heaviest rains in a century.

The runway at Chennai airport was partly opened after being shut for the past four days, officials said, aiding the relief effort in a disaster that has claimed 280 lives across Tamil Nadu state, according to official figures.

BBC reported that power has been restored in many parts of Chennai, the state capital.

Large parts of India's fourth largest city were inundated by up to 2.5m of water after the torrential rain last Tuesday, leaving many residents trapped on rooftops or upper floors without power or communications.

  • S'pore sends letter of support; $105k in relief committed

  • Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has sent a message of support to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa over the severe floods affecting the state.

    "I am saddened by the hundreds of lives lost and disrupted due to the severe flooding in Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu," Dr Balakrishnan wrote. "Like many Singaporeans, I hope that the floods will recede soon. I am confident that normalcy will return to your state in the near future under your leadership."

    Dr Balakrishnan also told Ms Jayalalithaa in his letter that Singapore has committed US$75,000 (S$105,000) towards the South India Floods 2015 fund launched by the Singapore Red Cross for flood relief to "demonstrate Singapore's solidarity with the people of Tamil Nadu".

    The Singapore Red Cross yesterday issued an urgent appeal for donations to support its action plan to contribute US$150,000 worth of relief supplies to assist flood relief efforts through its Red Cross partners in India.

    A team of Singapore Red Cross volunteers will be deployed to help distribute the relief items. The public can make donations starting tomorrow at the Red Cross House.

    In a statement issued in response to media queries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Singapore's Consulate-General in Chennai has contacted most of the registered Singaporeans in the state and confirmed they are safe. It is in the process of contacting the remaining Singaporeans.

    "For Singaporeans wishing to return home, the consulate has advised them to leave via Bangalore as Chennai International Airport remains closed till further notice," it said, adding that the consulate will continue to monitor the situation and assist Singaporeans.

Chennai has boomed as a centre for vehicle factories and IT outsourcing, but trash-filled drains and building on lake beds in the rush to industrialisation and prosperity has made it more prone to flooding.

While the rains have paused, more than half of Chennai's 859 city areas remain under water, officials said. The metropolis of nine million is facing spiralling costs of essential items, a lack of clean water, and the risk of water- borne diseases as the overwhelmed authorities struggle with rescue and relief operations.

"We are asking for more help from the army, the national disaster relief team," said Mr Atulya Mishra, the relief commissioner of Tamil Nadu. "It has been a monsoon unlike anything we have seen in history, we need all the help we can get."

Ten columns of the Indian army, about 1,000 soldiers in all, were being flown into the city to add to the nine columns already engaged in relief and rescue work, Mr Mishra said.

The National Disaster Response Force, a specialist federal unit set up to handle emergencies, would send 20 more teams in addition to the 28 already on the ground, making it the force's largest deployment to a flood disaster.

The runway at Chennai airport had been cleared of water and planes that had been stranded for the past five days were being flown out for technical checks at nearby centres such as Bangalore, officials said.

Passenger flights had not yet started as the airport terminal was waterlogged, and it could be two more days before it was fully operational. Some communications had been restored following the floods.

On the Old Mahabalipuram Road, home to many IT companies, people were still trapped by high floodwaters.

Ms Meenakshi Vijayakumar, a deputy director of the Tamil Nadu fire service, said residents in the area were refusing to leave even though the water level had dropped slightly. "Some have old parents, they don't want to take a chance," she said, with many too scared to wade through floodwaters.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who visited the city last week, announced 10 million rupees (S$210,000) of extra assistance for relief operations.

The southern Indian city's failure to cope with a threefold increase in seasonal rainfall brought back memories of similar flooding in Mumbai that followed a cloudburst in 2005.

"The quality of our infrastructure and relief response should've been better, but a natural calamity of such magnitude will test any city," said Mr Dipen Sheth, head of institutional research at HDFC Securities in Mumbai. "India's urban infrastructure is reeling with the ever-increasing population and the Chennai floods won't improve India's image globally."

Insurers and re-insurers will soon take stock of the situation as the true magnitude of the disaster unravels. A trade body said losses to businesses from the record downpour could reach more than 150 billion rupees.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 06, 2015, with the headline 'More troops out to rescue Chennai flood victims'. Print Edition | Subscribe