Ground Report: As Chennai limps back to normalcy, middle-class people pour out woes in anger

The News Minute hits the flood trail, A despatch from Chennai, perhaps the worst affected region in the state.
Ground Report: As Chennai limps back to normalcy, middle-class people pour out woes in anger
Ground Report: As Chennai limps back to normalcy, middle-class people pour out woes in anger
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Editor's Note: You can read our report from Kanchipuram here.

“So what if we are not poor, don’t we need help? We also voted and elected leaders. Are we to die? How can they tell us they will only help the poor?” asks an angry old lady to a News7 reporter stationed in Velachery. As she screams at the camera and breaks into tears, an old man near her holds he back and asks her to move on.

Velachery is a middle-class residential neighbourhood built on a lake-bed, the reason why it is one of the worst affected areas in Chennai. With rescue efforts concentrated on the neediest, the poor, many lower-middle class and middle-class people are complaining of government apathy.

By Friday morning, Chennai had not seen heavy rains for nearly two days. On December 1 (Tuesday), the MeT department had warned of heavy rainfall for at least three days. But the torment of the rains did not continue, at the very least, it seems to have been stalled. The forecast for possible rains over the weekend remains.

Residents in West Mambalam try to push water out to the road

Although there have been minor showers the roads are wet as we drive through Sriperumbudur from Kanchipuram on the way to Chennai. Vehicles are overturned, shops and houses have been washed away. Household items are strewn on the streets. There is uncollected garbage at every street corner, with organic waste rotting away creating an unbearable stench.

Trucks are parked on the highway, and drivers are waiting for the situation to get better so they can be on their way. “We have been here for three days now, hope we can start back today,” says a truck driver Radheshyam, sipping on his tea and complaining that his boss does not understand how bad the situation is.

As we head towards Porur, there are signs of a Chennai limping back to normalcy. The water seems to be receding and shops are open. There is no power or mobile connectivity in most areas. People were queuing up outside petrol pumps from as early as 6am. Newspapers were doing brisk business. For the past three days, while social media saw an information overdrive on Chennai, the people on the ground actually had no clue as to what was happening. How many have died? Which are the worst affected areas? When will the electricity be back? People were looking for these answers in the papers.

People waiting in queue for Milk at an Aavin outlet 

In areas like Mugilavakkam, Porur, Virugambakkam and Ramapuram, water levels were much lower than earlier. The main roads, like Arcot Road, were not entirely flooded with few portions of knee-deep water. However, the inner-neighbourhoods still had severe flooding.

There was a near-universal fight for milk. Everyone was out in the morning looking for it. Some were getting into fights with each other over the few packets which were available, while others paid a premium – Rs. 50 for half a litre – to get some back home. People walked several kilometers to source milk and other groceries.

At a middle-class colony in Porur, Priya is taking her dog out for a walk, rather a swim. “He loves it,” she says, as she drags him to the dry roads from the flooded area. “We were stuck inside for three days. We had food and some drinking water, but no power and communication. It was getting difficult and scary, but the situation is much better today,” she says, a mother of two.

Porur resident takes her dog out for a swim, and a walk

Two days ago, the ground floor of their house was completely submerged, and they had to source water at double the usual rates.

“We wanted to get out, but no one came for help. There was no communication, we got really scared,” added another resident in the same street.

Priya however had one reason to be happy, “My husband and I got to spend quality time with the kids,” she says.

Areas like Vadapalani had little water on the main-roads, but there was waterlogging in the inner colonies and streets. Though 100 feet road was clear, flooding was higher in Ashok Nagar and West Mambalam. That was however far lesser than the previous two days. Even if the subways were inundated, main roads and streets in Ashok Nagar and West Mambalam were navigable. Hundreds of people were out on the streets to buy supplies. Some also left for work. Life was nearly back on track, except that there was no power and there was a lot of cleaning-work up ahead.

A house in West Mambalam, inundated and locked up

At West Mambalam, another middle-class residential area, we run into an old man desperately looking for help to transport his pregnant daughter to the nearest hospital. Their house had knee-deep level water. Their tables, refrigerator and other things had been underwater for two days now. Drinking water was running out, and she was due to deliver the next day. “Can you please help?” he asked, looking at our Toyota Innova, seemingly ready for a ‘no’.

Hasika being helped to go to a hospital 

We said yes. We took him along and went to Krishnamurthy Street in West Mambalam, where water was above knee-level. Five minutes after we reached, a pregnant Hasika and her husband Hari step out. Getting to the car was not easy, three men had to hold her, walk her through the water so she could get to the car. The flooded water was a festering pool of sewage and garbage.

“They just dropped one packet of food in one of the buildings here, what will the rest of us do? Nobody cares for us,” says a young Gokul, who lives in the same street.

The nearest medical facility was the Public Health Centre, but Hasika and Hari are turned away by the ward-boys there saying that there are no doctors and there was no space. The Centre too was inundated with water until Friday morning. Finally, we took the couple to a private hospital on 100 feet road in Vadapalani, which was fully operational.

Across Chennai, especially in the middle-class areas, “nobody came for help” was a common refrain. Rescue workers point out that they had to reach out to the poor living in huts and slums first, and that there were many from residential areas who had been rescued. But for those who were looking for help and did not get it, that is not an answer they are willing to accept.

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