Death toll from persistent rain in Chennai, India, rises to 269

Thousands of people in the port city are marooned due to incessant rain since Monday

Carrying children and possessions through flood waters in Chennai, India, on Thursday. Photograph: STRSTRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

Carrying children and possessions through flood waters in Chennai, India, on Thursday. Photograph: STRSTRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

 

Nearly 270 people have died in southern India’s largest city of Chennai, while another 20,000 were rescued from rooftops by military and disaster-relief staff, following the heaviest rainfall in the area for over a century.

Officials yesterday said tens of thousands of the port city’s residents were marooned, without food or water, following incessant rain since Monday.

Flyovers, houses and buildings have been submerged, bridges washed away and most telephone and electrical networks had broken down, leaving the majority of over 4.6 million residents in India’s fourth largest city isolated.

Chennai’s airport and railway station have been closed until Sunday, as meteorological officials forecast at least three more days of torrential rain.

Schools, shops, offices and factories too were shut, as the city recorded 345mm of rain on Wednesday alone.

Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is one of India’s biggest car manufacturing and information technology hubs, with an aggregate capitalisation of over €41 billion, all of which have been forced to shut down due to flooding.

Analysts estimated that commercial losses due to this closure would run into billions of dollars, as it will take weeks for these to begin functioning again after floodwater recedes.

The state-run Chennai Petroleum Corporation, which refines 210,000 barrels of oil a day, has also ceased operations.

An Indian navy air base at Arakkonam, 91km west of Chennai, is being used as an alternative airport to receive food and relief materials ferried in by the military.

But state officials said accessing it was difficult, as all roads leading to it had either been washed away or were under water and impassable. “The biggest challenge is to find a way to clear the inundated airport and main roads around the city,” said Anurag Gupta of the National Disaster Management Authority.

The federal government has deployed India’s military to rescue survivors and provide food and water to tens of thousands of people trapped inside their homes.

Indian army boats, however, were unable to navigate the swift water currents on the streets on Thursday, forcing soldiers to form a precarious network of ropes to transport people to safety. “We want to help, but the problem is beyond our control. The airport is flooded, train networks have collapsed and the weather is still not conducive,” federal home ministry spokesman KS Dhatwalia said in New Delhi.

The federal government has pledged €133. 5 million in immediate relief and is surveying losses to life and property. Experts, however, warn that illnesses such cholera, typhoid and gastroenteritis would erupt when the waters receded.

Environmentalists said haphazard construction by a corrupt administration, faulty drainage and a rubbish pileup exacerbated the flooding. “Chennai is stinking and it is shocking to see how it has collapsed in the last 48 hours,” said Anant Raghav, a professor at the University of Madras.

Prime minister Narendra Modi, who travelled to Chennai to get a view of the flood damage, after his return from the Paris climate conference, blamed global warming. Weather officials said a depression in the Bay of Bengal triggered the devastating rain.