At midnight on December 1, 2015, the Adyar River forcefully entered the homes of hundreds of people living on the river banks at Kotturpuram and Saidapet. The memories of that terrifying night still keep many residents awake at night.
A year later, as one enters Chitra Nagar, a low-income housing colony in Kottupuram, a handful of women are seen pushing stagnant rainwater from outside their homes. Little has changed on the ground after the deluge last year. Residents point to the discolouration on the painted walls, proof that water-levels nearly touched the roof of their single-storey house last December.
But what lessons have residents living along the bank of the Adyar River learnt from the Chennai floods? 42-year-old Latha, a domestic help, refuses to take any chances when it comes to her documents, after most of her papers were found soaking wet. â€śI want to keep all the important documents safely first. I have kept all the certificates and identity cards at the ownerâ€™s house where I work,â€ť she says.
But Latha isnâ€™t the only one, who has realised the importance of keeping original documents safe. â€śI have already kept all the certificates of my children, house allotment letter and all identity cards at a friendâ€™s house who lives on the first floor,â€ť observes G Krishnamoorthy, (50), a plumber.
And thatâ€™s not all. The Krishnamoorthy family now keeps all eatable items and their clothes on higher shelves.
â€śMany people from different parts of Chennai came to help us,â€ť recalls Latha, noting, â€śYoungsters and many people were frequently coming to provide us food. They also came back later to help us in cleaning the area. That was when we realised we are not alone during our tough times.â€ť
Many in Chitra Nagar have also raised the threshold of their houses, so that water does not enter the homes. â€śEven if it rains a little, water seeps into the house. To stop that, we have put these cemented blocks,â€ť says Priya, a domestic help.
The many promises made by the government in the aftermath of the floods never materialised, allege residents. â€śThey had promised to construct a wall but they have not done anything. They just constructed a road in May. Even the cleaning of the roads was done by us and people from outside,â€ť explains Gauri, (34), domestic help.
More than 1000 people were rehabilitated to the Slum Clearance Board houses in Perumbakkam while the rest of them are waiting to be shifted from this place. â€śGovernment has promised to provide a house but we have not got it till now. We are waiting to be shifted from here. What if the water comes again at night and we are sleeping?â€ť asks Priya.
Recalling the day of the floods, Shanthi, a 45-year-old domestic help says, â€śIt was night and all we could do was take our children, sit in the vehicle sent by the government and reach Gandhi Mandapam (shelter). There were many people who also went and sat on the top of their houses. We lost everything we had. We were wearing the same clothes for a week.â€ť
It took months after the floods for people to piece together their lives once again, buying all the things they lost in instalments. â€śWe bought everything from beds to TV, the whole house was full of drainage water. What will we do if it happens again?â€ť Ambika, a housewife asks in fear.
On the banks of the Adyar river in Saidapet, mosquitoes swarm around pools of stagnant rainwater. â€śWe have asked for help from the corporation many times but they did not come and help us,â€ť notes Pandiammal, a housewife.
Whenever it rains, residents are forced to use mosquito coils so that they can get some sleep, explains Pandiammal. â€śBefore the floods, there was a way for the water to go into the river. But after the floods, the government broke all the construction near the river and put the debris on this side. There is no way for the water to reach the river,â€ť she points out.
We try to make way for the rainwater by making holes but that is of no use, says Geetha, another resident. There also complaints of snakes and insects entering their houses when it rains. But despite the hardships, Geethaâ€™s family and many others refuse to shift to the Slum Clearance Board tenements in Perumbakkam. â€śWe have been living here for generations. We wonâ€™t leave,â€ť she argues.
The biggest lesson she has learnt from the deluge last year, Geetha thoughtfully says, â€śWe just want to protect our families. These things we can somehow buy again.â€ť Her words are echoed by Latha, who notes, â€śIf the flood comes again, I just want my family and I to be safe.â€ť