A first-hand account of the Chennai floods

CHAL USA photo used 9d1505_9ba56c3c46ca4737b341cd3f1778f56a



By Nanditha Krishna


Dec 8 2015


The rainfall from Nov I to 30 was 1255.7 mm, as against a normal of 407.4 . From December 1 to 7, we received 531.8 mm of rain.  It had stopped raining yesterday but has begun again today, a lighter rain.


I don’t know if this is Climate Change, but I have never seen such extreme weather. This is Nature’s fury at its beautiful best!


The floods were caused by the unannounced and sudden opening of the sluice gates of Chembarabakkam lake . The waters were let into the Adyar and Cooum, and then burst their banks. Since the original channels connecting the lakes and rivers had been built over, the waters used the roads as channels, and came down TTK Road (where we live) from the river, entering our house and the Foundation campus. From December 1 to 6 there was no electricity, so we had to ration the water. We have a generator, but no diesel was available as water had entered all the underground tanks in the petrol bunks. Alwarpet was very badly hit. There was knee-high water inside the Foundation – after all, the building is nearly 200 years old , and is at a lower height than the road. Eldams road and Alwarpet junction were under water, and the waters were as high as car windows. Fortunately, I had desilted our well in October, so we could pump clean fresh rainwater. I didn’t dare use Metro water, which was contaminated with sewage water, so I now have sparkling fresh rainwater! Our mobiles had no connectivity. Only the good old BSNL land lines were working, but most people have only mobiles!


My 16 dogs were miserable. They hate the rain!


Many of our staff – including those who couldn’t reach home and those whose homes were under water – moved in to the Foundation guest house. We were cooking for about 25 people – breakfast, lunch and dinner! Water entered the ground floor of all our homes – mine, Prashanth’s and the old house, which had knee-high water in the beautiful open courtyards and central hall. Many parts of the city were submerged – bridges, roads, buildings and hospitals – while cars and 2 wheelers are still floating around! Boats were the common mode of transport. But those I sympathize with most are the sweeper women. They could not leave their homes, yet the floods destroyed their houses and took away all their belongings (including gold jewellery kept in a safe). The people living in slums are the worst affected. We are the lucky ones.


We have never stopped the pooja in the last 200 years. We were forced to do so this time as the priest could not come and water had entered the pooja.


The Adyar river entered Chinny’s factory up to a height of  8 feet. The water went into all the machines and computers. The workers from Orissa who live on the premises managed to escape in time and run to the terrace, but they could not salvage anything.


The airport closed down, and the trains and buses were all stopped. Our only lifeline was the Bangalore highway, through which relief supplies entered the city. They say 269 people died, but I think the number must be much more (at least 2690). I know entire families of people living beside the river who have disappeared. I saw aeroplane wheels under water!


The NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority), Army, Navy and Air Force were magnificent. They rescued people, provided food, etc. The Blue Cross of India was also magnificent. Dawn William was rescuing animals and people by the thousands in pouring rain, night and day. We bought a boat for the Blue Cross, while HSI India sent down two more  boats and three vets from Ahmedabad. The boats rescued thousands of people and animals.


The state and local government were missing and appeared only on Sunday night. Kanchipuram, Thiruvallur and Cuddalore districts are also badly affected. The electricity boxes are under water – one man was electrocuted on Eldams road.


Our problems are a result of corruption and lack of preparedness. While we cannot blame anybody for nature’s fury, we can blame the local government for not cleaning the storm water drains; for not desilting the temple tanks and lakes in summer, when they were dry; for not planting the traditional palm trees and Bermuda grass (arugam pullu / durva) on tank bunds, to prevent water breaching the sides; for not clearing Acacia and Water hyacinth from water bodies; for not clearing the inlets and outlets of water bodies; for not removing constructions  and illegal encroachments alongside rivers and lakes in spite of court orders to do so; for dumping solid waste in water bodies, marshlands and waterways; for not closing electric boxes; and so on.  Plastic bags MUST be banned, for they had clogged the storm water drains. Four years from now we will have a fresh cylone, floods, etc., and the same thing will happen again.


Finally, water was pumped out of our garden and the Foundation campus and power returned on Sunday night and Monday.


I hope my next mail is happier, and not something out of the Doomsday Book!


How you can help animals in the floods

If you’d like to donate to help Blue Cross of India with their work rescuing animals affected by the floods.

From the U.S. or anywhere outside India, click here.

From inside India, click here.



Photos: Courtesy of Chal USA










4 thoughts on “A first-hand account of the Chennai floods

  1. I agree that climate change is the culprit and we are the cause of it. I believe that our dependence on animal-based products via factory farming and animal agriculture is causing abnormal effects in weather patterns. In PA, USA, we are experiencing the warmest winter since the 80s. A major way to help is to choose a plant-based lifestyle. You can’t be an environmentalist and eat meat…or in this case, support factory farming practices. Go Veg for the animals, the planet and your health.

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