Marooned.

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Floods of 2015: A crash course on everything that went wrong.  15th of November, 2015 when we were preparing to get battered little did we know that we would be witnessing a record downpour. These rains triggered the disaster volunteer in us to reach out to villages that we have never heard of and experience a great human story.

Day 1: Watching that regular news update on record rains across TamilNadu was exciting breaking news, however, there was an underlying current that was not being reported on.

11:40am: News of the Perumbakkam Lake breaching its bunds to enter neighboring colonies would be just another lake overflowing story. However, to those who have volunteered at this lake, one would be alarmed to understand that THE PERUMBAKKAM LAKE is FULL. A lake where 7ft trenches with an additional 8ft bund stands. It must be record rains indeed for the Perumbakkam Lake to be full. Then news kept flowing in just as the flood waters:

Arasankazhani lake: full ( A lake that has been dry for the last 3 years)

Madambakkam lake: full (A 250 acre flat bed lake)

Mudichur lake: Full n overflowing (A lake that was a dumpyard until 3 months ago.) Same was the story with Keezhkattalai, Narayanapuram, Thiruverkadu, Thazhambur and many other lakes…

These aren’t waterbodies that would fill up, as their channels are blocked and the usual urban encroachment story. But, if they are full despite all those reasons, then the rain gods have given us in plenty.

Those friendly neighbors who helped us clean these lakes were now marooned and in some cases were living with 4 to 5ft water in their colonies. EFI decided to put together an emergency flood relief kit and reach out to those worst affected.

Quick Highlights from the days of flood relief work in Chennai:

  1. Massive floods: Yes, we encroached but were allowed to encroach.
  2. Polythene: Urban arrogance, despite repeated calls even after the floods we  dump them irresponsibly. These wrapper CHOKED several drains.
  3. Mrs. Anonymous: After a 3 hour struggle she was finally pulled out of her drowning house close to Mudichur. When offered some bread and a clean blanket, those tearful eyes said a thousand words. After a 2min search she pulls out a wet Ten Rupee note and a coin, “3rd street and the pink house on the left is mine, do come back when everything is back to normal and I shall repay for all this, for now please take this Rs.12.”
  4. Flooded with Whatsapp but no food/water: Irony was, people could still access internet but not clean drinking water or fresh food. PRIORITIES.
  5. The Biriyani Guy: “I am not eating bread for another day, I am being told that in Kottivakkam they are offering Biriyani at the relief camp, why am I being only given bread.” We were puzzled, amused and continued with the bread.
  6. NDRF: THE REAL HEROS of Chennai’s 2015 Floods. Men who made sure that people were rescued with their dignity and safety intact. Men who went to any dept, who swam through any muck/filth. Men who worked Composed with no cameras on them.
  7. It all came and it all was given: There would be a need for 100 more bread loaves, as calls kept going, magically there would come this one call, “hello EFI- I want to donate some bread.” Sometimes when you had excess there would come this call “hello-EFI, we are calling from … need some….” and fortunately all that they have asked for is all that we would have 🙂 🙂 🙂 Never believed in Magic before, but experienced it during the floods of 2015.

Cuddalore Villages:

When we all were focussed on that drowning bus in the Saidapet subway, there were people who were clutching on to whatever they could to stay alive in Cuddalore district. Here is a ground report from at least 3 of those villages.

  1. Karivettai-Kattralai Village: Off the Cuddalore-Vridhachalam road, tuck away from any modern world comfort is this tiny hamlet. With a truck load of relief material, we leave Chennai in the bright afternoon on the 22nd of Nov, with an estimation that we would reach in the next 5 hours. Little did we know that it would take us forever (literally.) After a back breaking 8 hours journey on rain battered road, we reach a Dark Island with 300 families waiting for our truck. The rain clouds decided to welcome us into this floating village with more rains, as rain poured mercilessly we distributed the kits generously and our people received it graciously.

Highlights:

a. Neyveli Lignite Corporation’s flood waters played havoc in these villages. The discharge led to a devastation with cattle and livestock being washed away in this village. Damage to houses was visible.

2. Sirupalaiyoor: Cuddalore, an established town. A village that is 27kms from Cuddalore could not be that remote was the belief. 27kms in an hour on bad roads was the calculation, record rains, thus record travel time. 27kms covered in just a little over 3 hours 30 minutes. A village so cut off from Chennai, S.Palaiyoor is an India that we all need to know more about.

Highlights:

a. Thane cyclone ravages the village and now the floods of 2015. Water rose to heights of close to 5 ft, with 2 adults drowning and being washed away. Several cattle and livestock dead with damage to crop. A farming community where their peacocks and rabbits are proof of prosperity, this village is all set to bounce back ONCE AGAIN in no time.

3. Killai: Minutes away from the Pichchavaram Mangrove this coastal hamlet has played the victim in several calamities. They shrug it off and are prepared for the next.

    Highlights:

a. A sizeable coastal tribe live in the depths of the Pichavaram Mangrove and the adjoining fishing community who are struck by calamities, yet prepared.

Misgovernance, modern greed and lack of scientific approach are all definite reasons to these sufferings. However, putting aside all negativity, we need to move on with a focus on rebuilding the right way. Respecting nature is neither a Choice nor a compulsion, it is Common Sense.

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