Chennai now turns into city of boats and snakes

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Chennai lay paralysed under monsoon fury today, non-stop rain through Sunday having flooded roads and homes and dented its image as a smart city.

A Gangrene over the Bay of Bengal has dumped more than 300mm rain over 24 hours on Tamil Nadu’s northern coastal districts before the state had recovered from two earlier spells on either side of Diwali.

After a 13-hour slump in rain from 4am today, the downpour resumed at 5pm, hampering whatever little relief efforts officials had rustled up.

At least 74 people have died in rain-related incidents across the state since the northeast monsoon arrived towards the end of October.

Schools and colleges have remained closed since Diwali because of the rain.

Large swathes of the metropolis lie under a sheet of water, which has reached depths of more than five feet in the upscale southern suburbs, built on marshy land, where the lakes and swamps have overflowed. Authorities had to use boats to move marooned residents to safer places.

“Since the transformers and fuse boxes on the roads are under water, we have been without power for over two days,” complained Preetha Srikumar, a resident of Vijaynagar in Velachery, a sought after neighbourhood 4km from the Raj Bhavan.

“Stepping out of our homes is risky as the water is infested with snakes, some of which are poisonous,” Preetha said.

Goaded by Opposition criticism, chief minister Jayalalithaa today made a brief survey of her constituency, R.K. Nagar in north Chennai. She even made a short speech from her expedition van assuring all help to the public.

“The northeast monsoon lasts three months but the season’s entire rainfall has happened in a few days. So whatever preventive measures we had taken proved insufficient,” Jayalalithaa said.

That her convoy had to sputter through knee-deep water bore evidence to the shoddiness of her administration’s “preventive measures”.

“She is merely covering up for the inefficiency and incompetence of her government.

There was no preparedness even after the Met department predicted excess rainfall during this year’s northeast monsoon,” said M.K. Stalin, DMK treasurer and Jayalalithaa’s prospective rival in next summer’s Assembly polls.

“If they had deepened the lakes and cleared the canals well in time, this flooding would not have happened and we could have stopped surplus water from flowing into the sea and getting wasted.”

Chennai’s storm water drains, built at a cost of over Rs 30 crore over the past three years, have got clogged because of poor planning and lack of desilting.

This has allowed rainwater to enter the sewerage, choke it and push sewage back into homes and streets through toilets and manholes.

The narrow lanes of north Chennai, home to nearly 30 per cent of the city’s population, have been hit the worst.

With most of the subways resembling swimming pools, bus services have been curtailed.

“This is the worst flooding we have seen in the past 10 years.

While the city has expanded, the corporation has brought more areas under its control.

One had expected a better performance,” said civic activist Shanthi Kannan.

“Instead we are witnessing a replay of the floods of 2005, which proves we have not learnt any lessons.”

Severe flooding in November-December 2005 had displaced thousands in the city and its neighbourhood. Two stampedes for relief coupons at government camps had claimed 48 lives.

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