Tamil Nadu residents pick up pieces to rebuilt lives

Chennai, Dec 15 (IANS) Residents of four districts of Tamil Nadu – jolted by unprecedented rains and subsequent floods – are slowly picking up pieces to rebuild their shattered lives amid counting of losses.

Flood waters – in a cruel sort of way – proved a great leveller: Inflicting financial losses on people cutting across class barriers. However, the lower- and the middle-class families would find it much harder to cope with loss of life’s earnings.

The unprecedented rains, the worst in 100 years, battered Tamil Nadu’s Chennai and other northern districts of Tiruvallur, Kanchipuram and Cuddalore in the first week of December. Official estimates of the deaths are pegged at around 390.

Though floodwater has long receded and Chennai is now dry, what remains behind is the havoc caused to the lives of its residents and debris of their properties, say the state capital’s residents.

“All that seems to be normal are Chennai’s blocked sewers and uncleaned roads,” Chennai resident J. Nitya remarked.

“I am depressed. My financial losses total around Rs.10 lakh. I will have to rebuild my life. No college will reduce fees nor any grocery shop sell provisions at subsidised rate for us flood-affected,” corporate executive Priya Batra told IANS.

“There was nearly 15 feet of water (after the rains on December 1 and 2). All seven apartments on the ground floor in our locality were flooded with sewage,” she said.

“All our consumer durables – television, refrigerator, washing machine, computers, car, furniture, utensils, gas stoves, beds and clothing and other items – were damaged,” Batra said.

She said she spent around Rs.15,000 only to clean her house of slush and muck. Her car insurance company was yet to send a surveyor to estimate the vehicle’s loss. “What is the government going to do for me?” she asked.

Both N. Velu, a public sector employee, and Velaiamma, a domestic maid, said they suffered losses of household items, including TVs.

“We will have to spend on woodwork as our furniture was damaged. We spent around Rs.10,000 on electrical repairs,” Chennai resident V. Lakshmi said.

“Offices and schools may have reopened after a month of holidays due to rains and flood, but life is not normal for me. Groundwater quality is suspect as sewage stagnated around my house for several days,” V. Sumathi, a resident of Shastri Nagar, said.

In Mylapore and Mandavelli areas, municipal water supply to homes has been cut owing to damage to a major pipeline, said officials.

Even though the Tamil Nadu government announced free two- and three-wheeler repair camps, several citizens spent huge money to get their vehicles roadworthy again.

Meanwhile, a majority of flood-affected people housed in relief camps have returned to their homes, or whatever remains of them.

Only 18 relief camps – 16 in Chennai and two in Tiruvallur districts – housing a total of 4,571 persons remain functional. During peak floods, around 7,100 relief camps housed over 19.42 lakh people.

“Over 1.34 crore food packets were distributed and over 31,320 medical camps organised,” a state government official said.

Insurance companies estimate the loss to insured property at around Rs.2,500 crore. Industry chambers Assocham earlier pegged losses due to floods at around Rs.15,000 crore.

The state government earlier submitted a memorandum of Rs.8,481 crore to the central government. A supplementary memorandum is under preparation.

The Tamil Nadu government is now repairing damaged roads with an outlay of Rs.50 crore in flood-affected Chennai, Kanchipuram, Tiruvallur and Cuddalore districts. It is also awaiting central government funds for repair and rehabilitation work.

For the flood-battered residents of the four Tamil Nadu districts, there is no way but to cling on to hope and slowly hobble on with their lives.

(V.Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

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