Families in Chennai who are affected by flooding every year are packing their bags yet again, getting ready to move to hotels or relatives’ homes ahead of the northeast monsoon.
After the devastating December 2015 floods, people got their homes in low lying areas raised. Despite that, they are now looking to move within the city and come back to their homes after the rains settle by mid-December.
V S Jayaraman, who lives on an apartment on the first floor in T Nagar, is moving 17km away to higher ground in Chrompet, where he has another flat. “I’m also ready for the rains. I’m moving,” says the pensioner who has been the troubleshooter for local residents for decades. “Every year, we have to be scared of the monsoon.”
Jayaraman’s building is inundated every year with rainwater entering homes of those on the ground floor. Since the apartment building is old, all the electricity network is on the ground floor, so they stay without power and water for days until the rainwater recedes.
“I was worried about how I will shift my 97-year-old mother, but she passed away in August,” said Jayaraman. He had even readied a private van to shift his mother to Chrompet. Now he is packing just one bag with essentials. “I have a flat there. It’s empty now for me to move during this type of emergency. After Diwali, I will move and stay there until the monsoon is over.”
Because of his work, 40 years ago Jayaraman began living in T Nagar in the heart of Chennai, a bustling residential and commercial hub, which is swarming with Diwali shopping, but is an example of improper city planning when the rains arrives. Interestingly, T Nagar is chosen for a transformation under the Union government’s Smart City project.
Two years ago, S Ravichandran, also a resident of T Nagar, got stone slabs constructed in his front and back entrances to prevent water from coming in. In 2021, he moved to a nearby hotel during the northeast monsoon, where he and his wife stayed for a week until they could come back home.
In 2022, he is looking to sell his house. The first question buyers ask him is if water stagnates. “And I tell them the truth. Immediately, the value comes down by at least 10 lakh. I’m praying that water shouldn’t enter my house this year. Otherwise, I have to go to a hotel again and it will be increasingly hard for me to dispose of this house,” Ravichandran said.
He recalled that during the 2015 devastating floods in Chennai, water was knee deep inside his home on the ground floor of an apartment building which was bought in 1982. “I have sentimental value attached to this home, which is why I have stayed here, but what can I do if a natural calamity affects my house,” he said. “I have to move.”
A Hemalatha, who has been living in one of the worst affected localities, the low lying area of Velachery in south Chennai, will be moving with her parents, grandmother and a younger brother 20km away to stay with their relatives in Royapuram for the next two months. It’s here that boats are often deployed during the monsoon.
Her apartment is near the Velachery Lake and its reduced storage due to urban development contributes to the flooding. “It’s an ordeal every year. Rainwater comes in because we live on the ground floor, so we don’t keep very expensive things in our house and we go to our relatives house during the rainy season,” said Hemalatha. “We stay in touch with our neighbours and we return only after the water is completely drained.”
Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu such as Krishnagiri, Trichy, Salem, and Hosur districts, have been receiving rains on and off, especially during nights and mornings. S Balachandran, head of the Regional Meteorological Centre in Chennai said that the northeast monsoon is delayed. “At present, the southwest monsoon is still continuing,” Balachandran said. “The northeast monsoon will be delayed. There is a system which has formed locally which will bring rains now.”
Last year, incessant rains in November made it one of the wettest for Chennai, which had registered a rainfall of 882.4mm up to November 28, leaving several residents marooned. In the past decade from 2011, November 2021 witnessed the second highest rainfall recorded for the month. In November 2015, Chennai received a record rainfall of 1049 mm, according to the weather bureau. The all-time record for November is from 1918, when Chennai received 1088.4 mm of rain.
On Thursday, R Priya, mayor of Chennai, Gangandeep Singh Bedi, commissioner of Greater Chennai Corporation, Cheapaul MLA and DMK’s youth wing president Udhaynidhi Stalin and civic officials held a meeting on the ongoing stormwater drain network.
K N Nehru, minister for municipal administration, urban and water supply on Thursday told reporters in Namakkal district that there is an effort to create a reservoir like the one in Chembarambakkam to store rainwater. “Everyday, we are working towards meeting the effects of northeast monsoon,” Nehru said.
Chennai has been a mess due to ongoing work on widening the stormwater drain network. Authorities are building new links and reconstructing old ones such as in T Nagar, where the drain has been expanded from two feet to four.