Walking through knee-deep water and not knowing what lies beneath the dark black sewage water mixed with rain water is a nightmare. Suddenly your leg touches some garbage in the water, the first thought that one has is, “Is that a snake or a scorpion?” This was the one thought that kept haunting me during the floods as I reported, and came to define my initial experience.
Later, that feeling changed. It became a daily affair for three weeks - walking in that dirty sewage water. Even seeing people with fungal infection on their legs did not scare me.
Soon enough, those infections turned to seeing deaths. I once visited mortuary of a government hospital to know the death toll in MIOT hospital flooding. The chemical smell almost killed me. Later, that week I actually saw a dead body which was lying in a lake for five days and was brought home to their relatives. Then that also passed. Later, I reported on the story of the death of a former Army officer and her wife in their house. Seeing their home and hearing their story from their neighbours was saddening. I wished that this story would be the end of the flood stories.
The water levels reduced and people started returning to their homes but those memories were still there to haunt- the deaths, the cries of the families who lost loved ones.
Have you ever imagined running out of your houses in the middle of the night due to a natural disaster? The only option one has is to save themselves and their families, while all their lifelong earnings get destroyed in front of them. This was the story of most of the people living in Thedeer Nagar. Few weeks back, they were living comfortable lives in their homes and then in refugee camps they were almost begging visitors to provide them with basic things.
The condition of people living in Semmenchery was even worse. For more than a week, all of them were stuck in their homes without food and water. At night, no one stepped out of their homes in fear of snakes and scorpions. One could see people running behind trucks providing food and water and snatching it from each other. The image of the daughters crying in front of their mother’s body which had washed off in the floods is still fresh in my mind.
Imagine the kind of fear the Chennai floods had brought in people- people either preferred to remain inside their homes or just tried to take the available transportation and run away from the city. The neighbours of the former army officer who died in the floods were saying that we kept calling them to run out of the house and come to their terrace but they did not, or could not, and were probably hoping that help would come. But it never did.
Some areas were completely submerged in water and looked like lakes. One of those areas was Thoraipakkam. For miles, one could only see water. People could be seen going back and forth in boats carrying food packets and water cans. But there were also people who were carrying suitcases and wanted to just leave the city. The most scared ones in that scenario were children and aged people. They were even scared to come out of the boats.
Those three weeks were very difficult for most of the city. But one of the important lessons that the city learnt was that together they could fight anything. And for me, it was all about the heart wrenching stories and adventurous walks in the sewage water.