“When water gushed into our home on that rainy evening, I took my granddaughter on my lap and climbed up to the wall that divides my room from my son’s. My initial thought was water will recede in a while and things will become normal,” says L Kamala, a 63 year widow from M G R Nagar area of Chennai.“But I was wrong. The level of water continued to rise and it almost submerged our house amid sounds of chaos and screams of neighbours outside. Somehow, I climbed up to the asbestos roof my house and was shocked with what I saw – the entire area is marooned and people were wading through the dark, dirty waters to reach nearby buildings,” she says, narrating her horrific experience of sitting on her roof for almost two days, praying the rain god to stop and water to recede.
According to her, water started to enter her house around 7 in the evening of 1st December, when most of the Chennai city were flooded following incessant heavy downpour and untimely release of water from Chembarambakkam lake. But she never imagined that the water would rise up to their roof within few hours.Since, she was an arthritis patient and could not brave the flowing water, she climbed up to her asbestos roof with her granddaughter. Kamala’s son also joined them and together they sat there for the whole night waiting the rain to stop. The next morning, Kamala’s son took the child and swam across the road to reach a safer place. But Kamala had no choice but to stay there for another full day until the Tamil Nadu police team came and rescued her.On December 3rd morning, a team of police personnel and civil society members reached the area with a boat and rescued all those trapped in flood water. They were all taken to nearby safer places where they stayed for three days until the water receded fully.There were about 2000 people, mostly the slum-dwellers and homeless, in two government schools where they were provided food, water and clothes by community members and local civil society organizations.“We supported around 500 families with food packets, water bottles and medicines. We have also handed over sanitary napkins, towels and saris to women, while children were given biscuits and milk, as their immediate needs,” informs R Vasantha of Arunodhaya, a local NGO partner of ActionAid India.“We have also handed over tarpaulin sheets to over hundreds of families whose houses were damaged and are preparing a roadmap for the long-term rehabilitation and livelihood support for those affected by the disaster,” she adds.Arunodhaya works with urban poor especially the homeless and street children in the outskirts of Chennai city, which were severely affected by the deluge.Kamala, who lives separately with the help of her widow pension, says she has lost all her belongings in the floods and her house needs urgent repair. “I don’t know how I will manage this repairing cost,” she quips.Like Kamala, there are many others who had gone through similar traumatic experience. Most of these affected people were the urban poor, homeless and people living in the slums on the outskirts of the city. The flood water has now receded, people have returned to their homes and slowly trying to overcome the disaster that has pushed them further into acute poverty and vulnerability.