Chennai – Day 2

I wanted to set the scene a little better as to why and how the floods happened. Chennai is a city right on the sea (this was the view from Gayatri’s terrace this morning) and tIMG_2729here are several rivers that run through the city and out to the ocean. The area I have been working, Kotturpuram, sits right on the banks of the Adyar river where there are a number of drainage reservoirs located. There are also three bridges, two of which were under construction.

According to the recommendations when the city was initially established, no one should have been allowed to construct within 80 meters from the edge of the river because it was labeled a “flood plain.” Somehow, however, the city government approved the purchase of land and the construction of houses as close as 30 meters from the water’s edge. Many of these homes belong to the upper-middle class and are quite beautiful and well-built. In addition, there are several slums set up along the riverbanks. Small dwellings constructed of palm leaves, tarps, branches, etc. fill up every available space and house entire communities. A single tent the size of a dining room table will house an average of 4-5 people. Hundreds of these were set up only meters from the water’s edge.

In the past 30 days, Chennai experienced 28 days of rain. Everything was already saturated river levels were pretty high. When the monsoon came last week, there was nowhere for all of the new water to go. Reservoirs were opened and immediately flooded. In addition, the two bridges in Kotturpuram which were under construction were weakened by the force of the water and collapsed…meaning people were trapped. When these two factors occurred, tent communities were washed away in a matter of minutes and the big houses suddenly found their ground floor under a few feet of water. The poor infrastructure of the city in general – inadequate drainage systems and clogged drain covers caused the floods to rapidly expand the entire city quickly found itself under water. Rain continued, waters rose and the rest is history.

Now that the flood waters have subsided questions have been raised – government officials asking why people built their homes so close to the river when this should have been prohibited and homeowners asking why the construction had been approved and signed off on by the government itself in the first place. Investigations will follow in the coming months as to what actually happened, though I doubt anyone will actually be held accountable.

Stay tuned for tomorrow – day 3, where I’ll talk about how India came together as a whole and why Chennai is so awesome. As promised, here are some photos from the past few days.

These two boys pose for the camera – they saw me surveying with my camera in hand and quickly got to action.

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People start to make their way out into the streets as the waters receded in Kotturpuram

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I am told that a few days ago water was over 5 feet high on this road. Waters receded enough overnight that by Monday morning it was passable.

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 Just a few streets down, the neighbor had already been pumped out and trucks of volunteers were distributing goods.

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Pumped out park. The water was higher than the fence two days ago. People took advantage of the much-needed sunshine and hung their clothes out to dry on the weathered fence.

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These are the pumps being used to clear out the water.

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This is the clinic I have been working at in Kotturpuram.

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