On the only train the Railways operated between Bengaluru and Chennai on Thursday, a sizeable number were people whose flights to Chennai, from different cities in the country, had been cancelled in the last two days after heavy rain submerged much of the city.
Stranded in Mumbai where he had gone to attend a wedding, cargo businessman Vijay Bhaskar was trying to get back to his wife and family through a route he heard was operating despite the downpour and the shutdown of Chennai.
For many like Bhaskar, the only way home is the train from Bengaluru to Katpady, some 180 km from Chennai, and then a road run into the city via Vellore and the Poonamallee High Road.
From around the industrial hub at Sriperumbudur, some 30 km from Chennai, the signs of rain-ravage start to appear. Small groups of people stand by the roadside, watching the waters surge in drains and lakes. A few anglers are out with fishing rods.
The Tiruvekad bridge on the Poonamallee High Road has taken the brunt of the rain fury — rushing waters swept aside the entire bridge Wednesday, snapping road connectivity between the suburb of Avadi and Chennai city.
While the suburbs of Chennai have not been as badly hit as the central parts, the streets here too have been under water and many people have moved to temporary shelters or to homes of friends and relatives. Large swathes of the road network in the Ambattur suburb of Chennai, including an industrial area, remain submerged.
Wherever one goes, one hears stories of tragedies and miraculous escapes.
The father-in-law of a young school teacher was electrocuted to death Wednesday when he stepped out to buy groceries.
A Christian family cremated the remains of a family member on the advice of a priest because the burial ground was submerged.
A cancer patient who refused to leave a first-floor apartment in Saidapet was forcibly evacuated as the waters rose.
During the first deluge in November, several families in the Rampoorna Nagar, in the suburbs near Ambattur, did not move out.
“The water was only knee-high and we thought we would manage. But yesterday, it rose to the neck-level… it was impossible to stay on at home,” Vijaya, who has now abandoned her house and sought shelter two kilometres away at the Venkateswara Matriculation High School, told The Indian Express.
Pushpalatha, who is also from Rampoorna Nagar, has other worries: “Our three dogs are still at home, on the terrace. We send them food from the relief centre.”
Rampoorna Nagar residents say the drain in their locality was blocked to create more land for construction. “We ventured out in heavy rain to try and create an opening for water to drain out. It did not work,” M Nataraj, a mason who has had no work for a month because of the rain, said.
In the suburbs, it is the people who are taking initiatives to ease the flooding. Local councillors help by providing supplies of food and water to families who have decided to stay at home and brave the waters.
At another school in the Ambattur area, the Sethu Bhaskar school, meals are cooked each day for nearly 1,200 families. Around 40 people have also been accommodated in the classrooms, school administrator Aadanai Sukumar said.
The respite in the rain on Thursday also helped many people, who went to work Tuesday, return to their homes.
“I left for work at 5.30 am on Tuesday. I left office around 4 pm but got stuck on the road because of the rain. I had to stay at a friend’s house for two days to wait for the waters to subside,” Mrinalini, an employee of an automobile firm in central Chennai, said.