Indian Chennai floods kill hospital patients
Rescue helicopters were grounded on Friday by renewed rains that spread fear in the flood-struck city of Chennai, while the death of 14 patients at a private hospital added to the official toll of 280 confirmed killed in the disaster.
Waters that had started to recede rose again after a new cloudburst that sent residents running for shelter under trees and in shopfronts. Parts of the flat, coastal city remained under up to eight feet (2.5 meters) of water for a fourth day.
Many residents have spent days stranded on rooftops since more than 345 mm (14 inches) of rain fell over 24 hours on Dec. 1, the most since the British ruled the city then known as Madras 100 years ago.
India’s fourth-largest city has boomed in the 21st century as a centre for vehicle factories and IT outsourcing, but trash filled drains and building on lake beds in the rush to industrialisation and prosperity has made it more flood prone.
Military helicopters dropped food to residents stranded on rooftops and the defence ministry doubled to 4,000 the number of soldiers deployed to help the rescue effort.
Rescue teams urged people to leave inundated regions and hundreds thronged the streets in the morning seeking higher ground, or trying to rescue relatives. Only roofs in some villages remained visible. Where water had receded, masses of black mud and garbage piled up.
In one of the most shocking incidents, 14 patients in the intensive care unit of the MIOT International hospital died after floods took out generators running life-support systems, Prithvi Mohandas, a doctor at the hospital, told reporters.
Tamil Nadu’s health secretary confirmed the deaths but said the cause needed to be investigated.
Despite combined rescue efforts by the military and civilian emergency services, help had yet to reach many areas and city-dwellers grew impatient as it emerged that authorities had released water from brimming lakes without much warning.
V. Raghunathan, 60, a manager at an interior design company living in the south of the booming industrial and port city, complained about the lack of warning before flood gates were opened on some of Chennai’s 30 waterways.
“The authorities didn’t give us adequate information about water being released from a nearby lake. Before we could take action my car had sunk and I had to move to the first floor of my apartment.”
The Tamil Nadu public works department said it did issue warnings, but the information apparently did not reach the public because of a breakdown in media and phone communications. The Chennai edition of The Hindu newspaper did not go to press on Thursday, apparently for the first time in 137 years.
“We are sending technical experts and engineers who will find a solution to flush out all the flood water. It has to be drained out soon, but we don’t know how,” said a home ministry official, who was not authorized to speak on the record and asked not to be identified.
The government restored some commercial flights to a naval air base near the city of six million, but the main airport remained closed and completely awash. Car factories that export around the world were also shut.
Affected carmakers such as Renault, Nissan Motor Hyundai Motor and component maker Apollo Tyres will decide on Saturday whether to resume production, whereas BMW will keep a plant closed until Dec. 7.
A steadily rising number of families sought safety on the city’s Basion Bridge flyover, many of them slum-dwellers whose homes had been washed away. They sat in the open, carrying little bundles of prized possessions – soiled rupee notes and identity cards.
A small van that arrived at the top of the flyover bearing water packets and biscuits was immediately over-run by people desperate for relief.
Rajarwadi, who sold vegetables by the roadside, managed to grab a packet of biscuits for her daughter. She hadn’t seen government officials help people camped out on the busy flyover on Thursday even though it was in the middle of the city.
Jose Sebastian, the head of a local construction company, said the biggest worry for his volunteer group was areas where the water level was too high for them to deliver food.
“We feel rather helpless,” he said. “We have lots of food, we have volunteers ready to go, but we don’t have the boats.”Chennai floods, India