A responsive government displayed an empathetic concern for citizens as bureaucrats, cops, army officials, the NDRF worked round the clock
An extreme rain event led to flooding of Chennai of nearly biblical proportions as a cyclonic storm slammed the city for two days before moving north and making landfall over the south Andhra coast.
Eight years after a similar cataclysmic rainfall event had hit the city, the preparations made for Cyclone Michaung showed how much had been learnt in the aftermath of a major metropolis being drowned in near 50 cm of rainfall within a 48-hour period in keeping with extreme weather events that are becoming more frequent thanks to global warming-induced climate change.
Comparisons can be odious but are required to be made as the responses to similar calamities stood out in such sharp contrast. Water engineers were so wary of waking the then chief minister who was sleeping through the storm that they tarried for long before opening all the sluices of a huge lake at once and drowning the city and leading to a largely preventable loss of citizens living in low-lying areas.
As opposed to such a cranky handling of a natural calamity, the government of the day under the proactive chief minister M.K. Stalin sent out warnings in time and made extensive preparations to tackle the challenges excessive rainfall would pose. A responsive government displayed an empathetic concern for common citizens even as ministers, bureaucrats, police, and Army officials, besides brave members of the national disaster response force worked round the clock on preparation, mitigation, rescue and relief work.
Even so, there were at least nine deaths directly attributable to the storm that was not only very severe but also stayed stationary over the city for a day and more while obstructing the flow of rainwater through rivers to the sea due to higher tides. Power to most parts of the city had been switched off to avoid deaths by electrocution in stagnant water, but it took a long time to restore power to normal standards.
The water release from the Chembarambakkam Lake, which is a rain-fed reservoir, was controlled for a few days before the storm was to hit. Even at the height of the rainstorm the outflow was not so excessive as to cause severe flooding. Of course, flooding of low-lying areas in an old city in topography non-conducive to natural flow of water to the Bay of Bengal even through the city’s revamped drainage system and three rivers was a given.
It was not rain without pain for citizens whose residential colonies were built in unplanned manner on flood plains in an expanding city that has become so concretised as to obstruct the natural flow. The century-old drainage system of the inner city, which can be traced to the days of the Raj, was grossly insufficient to handle the needs of the draining tasks of two monsoons. Having seen the government pump in Rs 4,000 crores to rebuild the storm water drains, the citizens may have expected an even better performance from it.
Much more remains to be done. The city’s international airport had to shut down operations for more than 24 hours because of the flooding of runways. Merely blaming tarmac proximity to the Adyar river is not excusable. India has been known to show alacrity in responding to emergencies but is found lacking in following through consistently towards strengthening the infrastructure of its megalopolises. Providing for the people, whether as netas or career admin professionals, is a perennial task.