The perception of “rain”, often viewed in a positive light, took a sinister meaning for Chennaiites on December 1, 2015, as the incessant rains caused a massive flooding in many parts of the city. Low-lying areas were severely affected, as strong currents washed away homes, belongings, lives and dreams.
The city’s arterial roads were blocked. Areas like Mudichur, Perumbakkam, Pallavaram, Velachery, Pallikaranai, T Nagar, Saidapet, Kotturpuram and Vyasarpadi saw the floods washing away homes and stranded residents were rescued by boats to the safety of nearby shelters. As the water receded, people started to rebuild their lives, one brick at a time. However, for those who had lost their homes or loved ones, life was never the same again.
A year after the December deluge, people whose houses were inundated still remember the smell of damp that hung heavily in the air, even months after the water receded.
The December deluge had led to the flooding of the Saidapet bridge, one of the city’s arterial roads cutting off access to other parts such as Guindy, Adyar, Porur, Nandambakkam, Meenambakkam, OMR and many other areas. A year later, life is back to normal on the road.
Tansi Nagar in Velachery was severely inundated during the incessant rains. Families living on interior roads had to be evacuated by boat. Today, the residents have successfully rebuilt their lives and homes.
Residents of Vyasarpadi suffered during the 2015 floods as no official aid was forthcoming. They relied on the help they received from other quarters. The public school too was heavily flooded, leaving the families stranded on the road. Today, families say that along with their belongings, their hopes of getting compensation from the govt too have been destroyed.
One of the hard hit areas during the floods, many families lost their homes, especially those living in temporary structures. While many families were relocated to Perumbakkam, those still living here say that it took months for the families to re-enter their homes, which were heavily inundated.
For the people
The December deluge affected people even after the water receded. Veeramani recounts how his life changed, after his father died, after working tirelessly for the safety of others.
‘After working endlessly to rescue others to safety, my father lost his life’
The floods had badly inundated many houses in the Kotturpuram housing board. Arul, my father, was a car painter. He was 43 and at that time, I was engaged in electrical works. Since both of us were earning, our family situation was comfortable. During the floods, my father, who was a socially responsible person, was working day and night, rescuing people and helping children to the safe ground. While doing the rescue work, he had to wade deep into the water. He spent hours in the polluted water and all this had a serious effect. He was so involved that he worked for days without proper food or rest. Even after the water receded, he was heavily involved in helping families clean up their homes. The signs of stress showed two weeks after the floods, when he developed sudden fever. A few days later, he recovered but he kept falling ill on and off. In February, he suffered a sudden heart attack and died. The responsibility of my family, consisting of my mother, sister and grandmother, is on me now. After my father passed away, life has not been the same.
Miracle baby, who survived the floods
One-year-old Tarun can barely walk but is already a bit of a celebrity among the relocated residents in the housing tenements of Perumbakkam. The little boy was born on November 21 but the day he was discharged from the hospital and reached home, the flood water had already started washing away many homes in Kotturpuram. Vennila, Tarun’s mother, said, “We had to rush immediately to the nearby shelter. I was so worried since he was barely a few days old and was vulnerable.” Like many others, Vennila and her husband Manikandan lost their home and were relocated to Perumbakkam. Tarun is the centre of all attention, doted on by the elderly women, who look upon the boy as a miracle. “He survived through tough times. He is our favourite,” laughs Jyothi.
Residents, who were severely affected during the floods, recall their experiences when their homes were flooded and how their troubles continued even after
‘Our lives changed overnight’
When the area started getting flooded, we were evacuated safely. However, all our houses were severely affected. It took us more than a month just to enter the house, where all our belongings were either washed away or destroyed. Almost three months went by, before we could restore our homes. Even after the water receded, our lives were never the same. Most of us are domestic workers. The floods had driven away the wealthy residents to a better locality. Now, we are left with no job and increasing bills. Earlier, we used to welcome the rains. Now, when it rains, we are afraid as it evokes memories of those terrible days. Sivagami, 42, homemaker, Kotturpuram
‘I was standing on the road with only the clothes on my back’
The water had entered all the houses and in our street particularly, the inundation was worse. It all happened so fast that we had no time to react. We watched as the floods washed away all our belongings – right from the TV to clothes and vessels. When our houses were flooded, we were out on the streets, without anything other than the clothes on my back. All of us were shell-shocked and couldn’t understand what was happening. The heartbreak was worse when we returned to our homes. Our lives were shattered. It took us months to just enter our home again. Valarmathi, 38, domestic worker, Vyasarpadi
‘We spent a sleepless night waiting to be rescued’
On December 1, we were going about our daily chores when the water started coming into the house. My daughterin-law, who was at home with the three children, had just started mopping the water, when we realised that more water was entering the house. On seeing that the water wasn’t receding, we quickly took a few blankets and food for the children and rushed to a vacant apartment on the first floor. We waited the entire night as water kept on rising. We got worried when the water touched the roof of the ground floor and there was no boat in sight. During the night, we didn’t have food and the children kept crying. There were no volunteers. That entire night, none of us slept. Next day too, we kept waiting, hungry and tired. Luckily, the boat came and we jumped off the balcony and got on the boat. We were taken to a nearby shelter, where were spent the next few days. When we returned, we found all our belongings washed away or unusable. A year later, we are still trying to get back to normal. Kanappa Nainar, 73, retired worker from Nandambakkam