Indian military evacuates thousands as Chennai turns into an island

(From agencies)

The Indian military is evacuating thousands of residents stranded in Tamil Nadu’s coastal city of Chennai which has turned into a small island after torrential rains that left 269 dead.

An aerial view of the submerged Chennai airport taken from an Indian Air Force helicopter

An aerial view of the submerged Chennai airport taken from an Indian Air Force helicopter

Although the downpour eased early Thursday, schools and offices remained shut for a second day.

The Airport Authority of India said the airport is likely to remain closed until Sunday.

Over 4% of telephone connections were down and electricity had to be disconnected in several waterlogged areas for the safety of residents.

The city received more than 330 millimeters (13 inches) of rain over 24 hours, significantly higher than the average for the entire month of December.

Met office forecast more rains in the next three days in Tamil Nadu and neighboring states of Kerala and Andhra.

Military personnel continued  using helicopters and boats to take residents trapped in flooded pockets to safer areas. Hundreds of police and fire department rescuers waded through flooded streets to carry stranded people to safety.

Low-lying areas in the city were submerged . The Adyar river, which runs through Chennai before draining into the Bay of Bengal, was flowing above the danger mark.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who took an aerial survey of the flooded city, later met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and offered Rs 10,000 million ($149 million)  for flood relief operations from the National Disaster Response Fund.

The chief minister, however, urged Modi to immediately release Rs 50,000 million ($748 million)  for flood relief works.

Earlier in the day, addressing the Parliament in Delhi, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said Chennai has become a small island and such a situation was unprecedented.

In Chennai, Sudha Raman Murthy, a mother of two teenage girls, was busy using pots and pans to bail water out of her home that came under water.

“We live in a city expecting that we will have access to basic facilities. But today, we have no drinking water, no fresh food and no control over our lives,” Murthy said.

“I can’t even believe that this much water is possible in Chennai,” another woman said as she stood in waist-deep water searching for a shop selling food.

“I’m scared to walk down this road,” she said.

Arun Ebenezer was visiting a friend on Tuesday when the downpour started. A bridge on the Adyar river broke triggering a flood. Flood waters began to rise and entered his car’s engine, stranding him for two days. On Thursday the water was still too high for him to head home, where his mother was staying alone.

The floods in Chennai were caused by unregulated urbanization and climate-change induced freak weather, Sunita Narain, director general of New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment said.

“In Chennai, each of its lakes has a natural flood discharge channel which drains the spillover. But we have built over many of these water bodies, blocking the smooth flow of water … We only see land for buildings, not for water,” Narain said.

Another expert said the floods in the city are most directly linked to the El Nino weather pattern, when the waters of the Pacific Ocean get warmer than usual.

“This year saw the strongest El Nino ever recorded,” said GP Sharma, vice president of meteorology at Skymet, a private weather forecaster.

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