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A year after the floods...

| Updated on: Dec 02, 2016
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...caution and trepidation rule in Chennai. Memories of the December 2015 deluge bring sleepless nights even though reservoirs and lakes in the city and surrounds are almost dry, and drinking water is fast becoming scarce

Meena Rengaswamy is 45 now, a year older since she watched in horror as the waters of the Adyar river rushed into her modest home in Defence Colony in Ekkatuthangal. Rengaswamy, her husband and son clambered onto the roof of their house, to be rescued by Army choppers a day later.

It took three months for the middle-class household to limp back to normalcy. Their provisions — rice, pulses, and other food items — all bought at cheaper rates in bulk for the entire month, as did the others in the neighbourhood, were all feasted upon by the Adyar. “This year we have not bought so much food,” said Rengaswamy. “No more stocking. None of the neighbours have stocked up either.”

Rengaswamy’s memories of the floods are still vivid. “When it rained one day a few months ago, I panicked,” she said. “There has been no rain this monsoon so far, but still the fear never really leaves you.” Like her neighbours, Rengaswamy is reluctant to buy new gadgets or appliances. “Our old TV survived somehow,” she said. “My son wants us to buy a new one. But we decided not to. What if it floods again? All purchases are indefinitely postponed and we buy only essentials.”

The deluge of December 1, 2015, proved a great leveller. As over one lakh cusecs of water flowed into it, the Adyar was in spate. Torrential rains, the highest in a century in the city, forced the release of a large amount of water from the Chembarambakkam reservoir into the river. The now narrow Adyar river swelled and overflowed into the homes and offices in its floodplains, swallowing properties of the rich, the middle class and the poor alike, and causing damages to the tune of over ₹25,000 crore.

Ekambaram Goda, 49, is in Rengaswamy’s neighbourhood, though the two have never met. They live a few streets apart — Goda in the posh Defence Colony.

Rengaswamy’s loss of ₹1.5 lakh worth of property was as crippling to her as Goda’s losses to the tune of ₹60 lakh was to him. Goda, his wife and son, too, spent over a day on the terrace of their home, screaming for help. They too, like Rengaswamy and family, were rescued by Army choppers. “As a family, we have moved past the terrible experience, although my son still worries that the floods will come again,” he said. “Our neighbours, however, are very paranoid.”

What the floods did though, according to Goda, was to instil a sense of community among the residents of the small colony. “We did not even know our neighbours before,” he said. “Now we are a team, a group of friends who watch out for each other. In that sense, the flood has brought us together,” he said.

Rengaswamy echoes his views. “I would still say we were luckier,” she explained. “There were so many poor people who lost everything. I keep thinking of them each time it rains.”

Even as memories of the floods are yet to recede, the city is grappling with worries of another kind — reservoirs and lakes in Chennai and surrounds are almost dry and drinking water is fast becoming scarce.

The Northeast monsoon, which seems to have failed this year, is showing signs of a late revival. At the time of going to press, there were reports of light rains in Chennai, as well as some other parts of Tamil Nadu, with the arrival of Cyclone Nada.

The overcast skies haven’t brought many smiles in Chennai, but the cyclone season will hopefully bring much-needed rain for a parched city, a year after it was inundated. The lessons learnt, though, from the great deluge, will not be forgotten for many years to come, by those who lived through it.

Published on January 16, 2018

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