CHENNAI received some respite from three days of torrential rain with the skies holding up on Thursday but thousands of families remained stranded with rescue efforts hampered by lack of manpower and effective coordination.
As water levels started to recede, some road links were restored in the city by afternoon. However, suburban train services and links to other southern cities from Egmore station remained shut due to flooded tracks and damage on the Saidapet bridge.
Also on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa undertook separate aerial surveys of affected areas, including in Chennai, its suburbs and the adjoining districts of Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur.
Modi later discussed the situation with Jayalalithaa at the INS Adyar naval base and announced financial assistance of Rs 1,000 crore for relief work.
Modi later discussed the situation met Jayalalithaa at the naval base INS Adyar and announced additional financial assistance of Rs 1,000 crore for relief work in the state.
But with more rains forecast over the next two days, and more than half of the city’s neighbourhoods flooded or partially submerged, control rooms and helplines were flooded with distress calls.
— ANI (@ANI_news) December 3, 2015
But with more rain forecast over the next two days, and over half of the city’s neighbourhoods flooded or partially submerged, control rooms and helplines continued to be swamped by distress calls.
Many residents and officials pointed to the lack of coordination within the administration and criticised the lack of official preparedness to handle a natural calamity of this magnitude.
According to rescue agencies and police, at least 5,000 families were stranded in Velachery, one of the worst-hit areas inside the city.
They added that over 4,000 families were stuck in areas along the banks of the Adyar river, north Chennai, Chennai city and Jafferkhanpet, at least 300 in Ekkattuthangal near Guindy, which houses industrial establishments, and around 500 in Mudichur, near Tambaram south of the city.
Rescue agencies had already rescued over 3,000 families from these areas since Tuesday night. Nearly 5,000 passengers and staff stranded at the Chennai airport were being evacuated on air force flights, said officials.
A senior army officer, who is at the forefront of rescue operations, said they were facing a shortage of manpower as well as logistics, including boats and other accessories to launch a large-scale operation.
He added that while over 450 army personnel and 21 boats have been deployed, another 150 personnel and 18 boats would be added to the mission by Friday morning. “This will include a self-contained medical team,” he said.
A senior IAS officer assigned to coordinate rescue operations said the lack of linkage between various agencies and the failure of communication systems had made his job difficult.
“What we need are more boats as the roads have turned into waterways. The state police have hardly a few dozen boats, and the navy has only one or two boats in each area. Fishermen and other private individuals are ready to bear the cost of transporting boats on lorries but there are no vehicles. Also, who will pay for the lorries to transport the boats? If one is ready to pay, who will tell him where he should deploy them? There is zero coordination among the state government and private initiatives,” he said.
Another top bureaucrat acknowledged that the government had received multiple warnings from local and national weather centres on the “heavy and very heavy rainfall” but failed to get its act together.
“Boats should have been deployed in advance. The owners of marriage halls and theatres, and fishermen and educational institutions, should have been alerted in advance to prepare shelters,” he said.
Asked why such basic measures were ignored, the official said reminders were sent down the line. “We reminded those at the lower level, but administrative apathy and opaque protocols stalled all efforts. Some top officials did not discuss the crisis at the highest level either because they were so disconnected that they had no clue what was going to hit us,” he said.
Other bureaucrats and police officers, however, said the government response was hampered by factors beyond its control.
For instance, sources said, many police officers were unable to take part in rescue missions as their own houses were flooded. “The residential quarters of police officers on Greams Road were submerged, including the house of a top officer assigned to the security detail of CM Jayalalithaa,” said sources.