This is the experience of a dear friend of mine now living in Chennai with her family and she is currently pursuing her degree. She recounts the terror filled accounts of the Chennai floods, few days at the relief camp and how things are settling back.
Rains were pouring like never before. When it rains here, like many other cities, drains gets clogged and it creates a ruckus, but this time it was different. Chennai floods were flashing in news headlines. News showed that several places were below water by now. Everyone was worried and had no clue what to do or how to control the situation. Colleges were shut but I had to go for coaching classes, so I went out with rain coats and umbrellas.
By the time I woke up water had reached our colony. We desperately hoped that the rains would stop but no avail. There was knee deep water on the main roads. BSNL internet had stopped working. Many have already been stranded homeless. People were opening their houses to the homeless destitute. In a matter of hours, I knew I would be one among them. By the evening, power supply was cut off. Some of our friends and relatives reached our place somehow and our three bedroom flat is occupied by 28 people. ATMs were closed so we had little money which might not even be adequate for travelling to some other place.
Water had reached our doorsteps. In a few hours there was water seeping steadily into the rooms from the bathroom drains. Reptiles and filth in the water scared us. We tied the furniture to the windows. Our home- have no idea whether it will be here anymore. We grabbed phones, food, torches and an extra set of clothes and prepared to move out. Everyone was panicking, especially the people who came to our place with a hope that this place would be safe. We spent the day on the terrace.
It looked like the water levels would rise again and so we decided moved to my relatives place far from here. But how would we reach there was a question that troubled us. Our lives were in danger. Crossing the waters was difficult. We kept calling our friends across the city only to know that their places were flooded as well. The food and water that we packed was almost running out. By the evening we saw a raft coming near our colony. They found that too many people were marooned in our colony unless moved to safer places. By afternoon, army men came to rescue us on boats and rafts. We managed to cross the waters though it was a nightmare since the current had increased too much. I can never express my gratitude to the wonderful people who came across on boats from the less flood affected areas to save us. We reached a flood relief camp at Kolathur. There was feet deep water at the camp as well, still it was better than our colony. Buses, flights and trains- every mode of transport had ceased.
We could huddle at the nooks of the camp and sleep at nights. Though the camp was crowded everybody was remaining as calm as possible. There were babies whose health got affected and cried the whole night endlessly. Our clothes were all damp and dirty. We had no idea how many people had died by now. Two old men at the camp died due to health problems. We all were desperately hungry. By 11 in the morning, food supplies arrived. Everyone stood in queues without losing their cool.
2nd day at the camp. Volunteers arrive with clothes, bed sheets and food. Water in the place was stinking because of excrement. Sanitary napkins and undergarments came in the evening. I switched on my phone and called our relatives in Kerala to inform that our family was safe. I kept calling my friends and sent them messages to make sure they were safe. Few of them picked our calls while others’s phones were switched off. Everyone was helping each other as much as possible. We met and talked to people irrespective of their gender, religion or class since at this moment we were all equal and the people around us were the only company we had. By then five people had died in our camp. It was my first time witnessing somebody’s death. Families were crying their eyes out though we all tried to console them. The only people unaffected by the trauma were toddlers who spread around smiles despite being homeless.
Rains ceased by morning. There was news that water was receding in few areas. We were told that people will be taken to nearby states by buses. Some people whose houses were in safer areas returned to their homes. My family and the family friends who came with us decided to board on a bus to Kerala as soon as they would come. There were over 400 people in this camp. Though the rains had stopped temporarily the skies were still cloudy. The weather predictions said it may rain again. So the only option was to move to other places which are not hit by the rains.
Almost half of the camp had been evacuated. Our buses arrived around 7 at night. We boarded the buses and bid good byes to the many people at the camp who also would be evacuated by night. The journey was difficult and it took much longer than usual since all the usual roads were closed. Finally we reached homes by 10th evening.
The flood was a life changing experience. More than the rains, it was the improper construction that did the damage. Countless lives were lost in the flood. What would be remaining when the flood recedes was another question that loomed our minds. But for the time being we decided to enjoy a good night sleep in clean warm clothes and beds at our ancestral home in Kerala.
Before we slept we prayed for all the people who had benevolently helped us. The clothes we wore, the food we ate, the medicines we took, the camp we stayed at- all belonged to somebody else. We would not have been here to tell the tale had it not been for the volunteers and army officers who came to rescue us risking their lives.
Back to Chennai. People had already started coming back to Chennai by December 20th. Water had almost subsided. But what we saw was not the old Chennai. Roads and homes were piled up with dirt and sewage wastes. There were carcasses found in our neighbour’s house. When we opened our house, what first hit us was a strong stench of broken drainage. Rodents and insects had made it their haven. There were health camps delivering medicines because of the outbreak of epidemics. Water from the taps was not usable. We had to wait for drinking water till the evening. It took two days to clean our house and around a week to clean our colony. Roads and bridges were completely destroyed. Drainage of the city was still in a crisis.
Things are not yet back to normal. Still, the emergency period is over. Many people affected by health problems due to the unhealthy condition are still hospitalised and as a result not many are there on the streets. Travelling is difficult but it is manageable. Well, this flood is not something we can forget easily.
I feel happy about Chennai and the people over here for the way they handled the situation. This flood taught us so many good things about humanity. The friends we had in the camp- I might never meet them again, but I wish to convey our love and gratitude to all the people who helped us.
Image Credits- Google