Waterlogging, fear of accidents, pumps in disrepair: Chennai struggles through rains

Citizens voice concerns in the wake of the Indian Meteorological Department's predictions regarding heavy rainfall and the impending cyclonic storm.
Water stagnation in Chennai
Water stagnation in Chennai

As rains continue to lash Chennai, many areas of the city are experiencing water logging and a host of issues associated with it. TNM visited Mogappair, Ambattur, Nolambur and T-Nagar on Thursday, November 30, and found that residents and businesses alike were struggling and concerned over rainfall predicted for the next two days. 

In Mogappair East and Nolambur, many pipes used by the Corporation for pumping out water were full of holes, making the exercise counterproductive. In the residential areas of Ambattur’s Industrial Estate, factory waste was seen coming out of manholes and mixing with stagnated rainwater, causing severe distress to residents and passersby. Usman Road in T-Nagar, like every year, remains  a challenging terrain for the public, shop owners and auto drivers alike. 

Concerns were voiced in the wake of the Indian Meteorological Department predicting that Chennai and parts of Tamil Nadu would receive heavy to very heavy rainfall on Thursday, November 30. Earlier this week, the Met Department had also warned that a low pressure area over the Bay of Bengal is expected to develop into a cyclonic storm by December 2. 


At the T-Nagar bus depot, passengers waded through water that was ankle-level or shin-deep. The depot is in a low-lying area compared to the surrounding streets according to the depot staff. At the time TNM visited the spot, a pump was being deployed to drain the area. An elderly bus passenger said, “It is frightening to walk through this water, particularly for old people and small children. We have to wade and stumble through the water just to catch a bus. To make matters worse, the drivers park the buses away from the platforms, forcing us to wade through the water. There are a lot of dengue cases in the city, falling sick because of all this is another worry.”

At this depot, earlier in the morning, four women sanitation workers had to manually remove water from the office buildings. One of them, Chellammal, said,“We get only 200 rupees a day since we’re on contract. If I fall sick and cannot come in even for one day, they will block that payment. I have sores all over the soles of my feet from walking in this water,” she said. 

A little away from the depot, on the arterial Usman Road, heavy traffic, waterlogging and the construction work for phase 2 of the metro rail project left pedestrians vulnerable. Water that was already shin-deep rose further up due to the rush of vehicles. Drivers at the local auto stand said they were not just losing business, but were finding the roads increasingly dangerous. “In Pondy Bazaar, Aranganathar subway is blocked because of flooding. There is waterlogging in CIT Colony subway as well. There is water stagnating in all the ways to exit the area. We’re not able to drive through it because the engine gets switched off,” said Muthu, one of the drivers.

Pointing to his new auto, he added, “I’ve just spent Rs 1 lakh for this auto. The brakes failed because of stagnant water near Kathipara Junction. I lost control and bumped into another vehicle. Now my auto has sustained damages.”

The auto drivers also said that the waterlogging that had begun a little after the rains on November 29 at 4 pm had barely reduced since. Similarly, further away on Sivagnanam Street, water stagnation has not subsided since 5 pm the same day. “The Greater Chennai Corporation said the mayor came to T Nagar and surveyed the situation. But they only took her till Nair Road where there is no water and drove her away. They didn’t bring her to areas like this. This road joins Venkatnarayana Road, but it’s practically impassable. Vehicles are breaking down so we’re having to walk through this water,” said Sivarahulan, a resident who lives on the first floor of a building in the locality.

Just off Sivagnanam Street, is Nana Street which was no better off. Amirthalingam, tea shop owner at the junction of these two streets said Nana street gets waterlogged every year. “It has been like this for twenty years, no matter which party is in power. The Corporation office is nearby, there is a post office and an SBI bank nearby, yet they don’t pay any attention to this locality.” Amirthalingam said a mother and child had fallen in the water while walking the street earlier in the day. Worse, he points out an electric box that has come loose and is teetering near the water surface. “I’ve complained to the authorities, but they are being apathetic.” He also alleged that mayor R Priya has not visited the area. 

Electric box that has come loose in Nana Street, T Nagar
Electric box that has come loose in Nana Street, T NagarBharathy Singaravel

West Chennai

In Vanagaram main road, a residential area of Ambattur Industrial Estate, TNM spotted stagnated rainwater, mixed with industrial waste oozing out of manhole covers. It left behind a strong acidic stench outside the LIG housing board complex which houses more than 500 families. 

Away from the industrial hub, low-lying roads of Mogappair East such as Venugopal street and Bharathi street were severely inundated. While one-feet deep stagnation was reported in Bharathi street, Venugopal street was flooded with water that came up to the waist of corporation workers who were assessing the situation when TNM reached the spot. Pipes were later brought along with a motored pump.

A Roads department worker who wished to remain anonymous pointed to those pipes and said, “We used these pipes last year and we were asked to reuse them this year. It seems like rats have bitten these pipes. As a result there are several holes in them. We are using temporary fixes like mats and ropes to fix these damages but we need new pipes to be productive, especially since heavy rains are likely to continue in the city and these are areas where water stagnation is reported year-on-year.” 

Mageswari, a resident of Venugopal street, said that she hasn’t been able to enter her house since Wednesday evening. “I had to sleep at my daughter’s house on Wednesday night. This morning the corporation workers came but the pipes have so many holes. They are trying to fix it for four hours but the water levels have not gone down. I cannot go home until the water is pumped out,” she said, pointing to her house which is located at the fag end of Venugopal street.

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring VGN nagar, Nolambur, almost every other road had huge puddles of water. The low lying areas including the spot where Lime street, Guruswamy road and Park street extension streets meet, were flooded with shin-deep water. Chinnaponnu, a resident of Lime street, told TNM, “The water will start entering my house on the ground floor if rain continues to lash in the coming days. Yesterday (November 29), these low lying roads in VGN nagar were flooded with knee-deep water and it had to be drained out using pumps. This is the situation every monsoon.” Apartments in VGN nagar had to arrange for pumps to drain out rainwater during the early hours of Thursday, November 30.

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