Many in Chennai were used to seeing visuals of the city’s low-lying areas, slums, apartments and industries built on lakes and wetlands being submerged occasionally. But when everyone, barring a few hundred, were affected, the reactions were varied — some reached out, while others remained confined by cultural barriers.
When the torrential rainfall had flooded almost the entire city by Tuesday evening, Vijaya Raghavan, a 23-year-old engineer tweeted: “If you are running out of balance, please text me with your number with network name. I will recharge for you.”
On Thursday, Raghavan, who was on his way back to his home in Tiruvannamalai, said he couldn’t help anyone anymore as he had run out of resources. He did respond to requests, paying Rs 10-20 as recharge fees for the various cellphone numbers, till the city blacked out and his phone battery died on Wednesday afternoon.
Kannan and Balaji, two youths from Theni, 500 kms south of Chennai, set out for Chennai on Thursday afternoon with a jeep full of relief material. “We hired a jeep to bring all the material we collected. We have no idea where to go or who to give these to. Let’s see,” they said. The relief material includes 600 packets of bread, 100 water packets and medicines.
Hundreds took to social media to aid rescue efforts, providing valuable information. While Twitter handles like ChennaiRains provided crowd-sourced alerts and help, another group prepared a spreadsheet of data which included a list of official and private control rooms and help centres. People also offered shelter to flood victims on social media — from a room to an apartment, marriage halls and movie theatres.
Actors Rajinikanth and Vijay were among several individuals who opened their marriage halls for flood victims. Actors Siddharth and R J Balaji, among others, sourced food packets from different places, using a hashtag they created on Twitter, and distributed these in their own vehicles.
The Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath mobilised over 700 volunteers from Thanjavur, Thiruvarur, Vellore and Pudukottai districts for rescue and relief operations. “We announced the mission Tuesday night through Facebook. Yesterday, we had about 250 volunteers, and today another 450 were added from various districts,” said Abdul Rahman, state secretary of the organisation.
The RSS and several other organisations were also involved in rescue operations.
Meanwhile, a senior police officer who monitored rescue operations in the city’s middle-class neighbourhoods, said many families refused to leave their houses as they didn’t want to stay with others in the temporary shelters or use common toilets. “I encountered half-a-dozen families who refused the request to board the boat,” said the officer.