First of all let me salute the courage and spirit shown by Chennaites in facing the worst floods ever in the history of Chennai and for standing together to overcome the hardships.
Probably in a day or two from now, we might see political blame games happening with respect to relief work or various political parties putting up big cut outs showing their leaders providing food / shelter clothing to the affected people so as to showcase the kindheartedness of their leaders and the ordinary citizens of Chennai will be back to work once again, forgetting all the hardships and losses suffered due to the unprecedented rains as well as due to unpreparedness of government machinery at Chennai.
Flooding like situation at Chennai was always a possibility and there were plenty of warnings and it was in November, when Chennai faced nature’s fury first time and then, Chief Minister blamed it on the unprecedented rains. But this time that cannot be repeated as there were warnings and everyone in the government machinery should have anticipated and estimated the impact of more rains to increasing water levels of rivers within the city. It was the gallons of water released from Adayar River and Cooum River that has resulted in the unprecedented inundation across Chennai. This is where I find fault with the government machinery at Chennai, as they knew it was round the corner still they couldn’t prepare Chennai either due to inability or indifference.
Government machinery at Chennai looked clueless and ineffective when it came to warning system, effective communication of warnings, uninterrupted transportation and telecommunication system, power back ups, stocking of water, clear cut plan for precautionary evacuation as well as a well defined plan to evacuate people and setting up regular communication line with citizens on what is happening on the ground. These are the basics of preparedness which sadly was missing at Chennai.
Now, I am not writing these out of my imagination but based on my own experience at Chennai. For me and my friends, it was a lucky escape but when I hear about the sad loss of lives, estimated at 400 + already and huge monetary loss suffered by people, I feel angry at the inability of authorities to protect citizens from a disaster which were looming over Chennai for some time from now.
Let me share my ordeal at Chennai. I landed up at Chennai on 30th November, it was raining moderately then, but absence of app based cabs from the roads did make me curious and as usual Chennai’s notorious private cab/auto drivers used the opportunity to make some quick bucks and I had to shell out double the fare to reach Hotel from Airport.
Since there were always warnings, ideally my schedule at Chennai should have been postponed for the time being but Chennai was indifferent and none seems to care about warnings. This has happened due to the ineffective warning system that we have in our country; whether it is on heavy rains, earth quakes or even terror threats. Warnings are just perceived as a perception and people just don’t care.
During the floods, whosoever was coming to Chennai or Chennaites commuting within the city, were finding it difficult to get regular transport, hence ordinary citizens were either fleeced or stranded at Airport /Railway station/Bus depot or even at various places within Chennai.
There were thousands who got stranded at Airport and Railway station just because there was no transportation available towards safer locations within Chennai or outside. How many of these stranded would have been old, how many them would have been seriously ill, how many of them would have been new born and children? I believe we should know whose apathy or inability resulted in this unpardonable act of non action, risking life of innocents as there was no alternative transportation arranged by the government machinery.
Now it was on 1st, where I was supposed to attend a workshop and it was evident by noon that something was not right, but still there were no information from anywhere about impending floods, hence we continued our workshop till late evening and when we came out of the hotel we could sense the danger and with the help of our local colleagues, we could make it to the hotel once more.
But even then, there was no communication about locations where water levels were expected to increase immediately or where all it could have been safer. If we were told about the danger of floods at the location where we were put up, we would have definitely moved out to safer locations, but sadly nobody was there to issue guidelines on what to do.
Next day morning, we came to know that the hotel , where we were attending workshop had been inundated with 6 ft level of water and all our colleagues put up at the hotel were stranded with little food and water.
But for us, life was as usual even then, as no one around had a hint on what was going to happen at our place, as our place was still dry and all the hotels and pubs were witnessing the same level of crowds normally they do.
By afternoon few mobile operators were completely off the network and we were finding it difficult to connect with our friends and colleagues in Chennai.
This is another regular problem associated with disasters, where communication just cuts off and citizens doesn’t really know what is happening around, they don’t know about the whereabouts of their family and friends. I wonder at a time, when we are earning huge money by way of spectrum auctions, why the telecommunication systems can’t survive disasters.
By 2nd evening even the supposed safe abode or our hotel, which in a way is one of the centrally located ,well known property in Chennai, suddenly experienced rising water levels , which in few hours inundated entire basement floor, resulting in to power shut offs.
Power shut off resulted in water running out in no time from the wash rooms and all those people staying at higher floors had to climb up and down to the lobby to attend even nature’s call. Again there were old people, young children struggling to cope up with the situation.
This is where the fourth point on preparedness comes in with respect to power backups. Irrespective of having enough and more generator sets in the city, people still couldn’t make use of it as most of them were placed in the basement or on the ground floor. Here again, authorities should have figured out a way to protect generators, while knowing about the danger of inundation impacting basements and ground floor immediately. In a well known Hospital at Chennai, about 20 or more patients at ICU lost their lives because of various life savings equipments couldn’t work due to power failure. How many more deaths would have happened because of reasons resulted out of power shut offs will be known only later, but point here is the lack of ability shown by the administration in anticipating such issues and take precautionary measures.
Finally , while being stranded at the Hotel , I have been trying to collect information from the hotel management about what was happening , is there any fresh warning , how about getting out of Chennai. To my surprise they had no clue. They were not briefed by anyone representing government machinery. This is the worst part, where nobody on the ground to brief the terrified citizens on what is happening, nobody to calm your nerves when you need it most.
It was the good gesture by hotel staff to drive us down to the nearby bus stop, which helped us in getting out of Chennai sooner than expected. But while going through the roads, I couldn’t just control my anger and frustration at the inability or indifference of government machinery at Chennai in failing to prepare Chennai from a disaster which was looming over it.
If anybody has let down Chennai, it is the Government machinery and we shouldn’t just move on without making them accountable for exposing Chennai to a disaster without being prepared. Those responsible for the unpreparedness must be identified and made accountable in such a manner that all those lives lost, due to the unpreparedness of government machinery, won’t go waste.
It was Chennai ’s turn now but story may be the same across nation, hence it’s high time, we citizens start demanding efficiency and accountability from the government machinery than simply paying taxes to pay off their salaries.
Feeling sad for Chennaites, who deserved a better administration.
Picture Courtesy: Livemint