05/12/2015 8:40 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Chennai Floods: Rains Ease, Focus Shifts To Relief Work

Flood-affected people stretch out their hands to receive packets of biscuits being distributed in Chennai, in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. The relentless rains that lashed the state for three days eased Friday, but the misery of tens of thousands of people was far from over, with large parts of the main city still underwater along with the region's biggest airport. (AP Photo/Arun Sankar K)

With the rains having slowed down in Tamil Nadu and the surrounding areas, the National Disaster Response Force has now shifted its focus from rescue to relief work and will deploy its teams with the aim to persuade people to leave their homes and move to safer areas.

"We have stepped up our deployment in Tamil Nadu and surrounding areas. A total of 50 NDRF teams are here and this is so far the most massive deployment in any flood related situation," NDRF DG OP Singh told ANI.

Emphasizing on the large scale of the relief work, he added that the operation consisted of more than 1500 jawans and over 200 inflatable boats are still at work rescuing people.

"We are trying to step up our activities, especially where it's still waterlogged. We are also persuading people to leave their homes so we can evacuate them safely. We are also using social media extensively, our helpline is working very effectively and we have inducted a number of technological driven operations," Singh added.

Earlier, Indian Navy Ship Airavat arrived at the Chennai port from Vishakhapatnam for relief work and began deploying teams laden with amenities and supplies focusing mostly on rescuing marooned people from the waterlogged areas.

Chennai painstakingly tried to restore normalcy as the torrential rains slowed down to light showers, leaving a window open for rescue and relief works to be stepped up. Special trains are being run and flight services are expected to resume partially from today.

Meanwhile, support has been pouring in across the country to Chennai as relief funds, supplies and amenities are making their way to the rain-hit state.

Chennai airport, where operations were suspended till Sunday in the wake of floods, will partially resume flight operations from today. The runway has been found to be safe for landings and departures.

“Flight operations from Chennai airport will resume partially from tomorrow. The flights will operate during the day time,” Airports Authority of India (AAI) Chairman R.K. Srivastava told PTI.

The airport would open at 6 am and flights would operate till day light is there, he said.

The runway has been cleared for operations after inspections by officials and experts, another AAI official said.

On December 2, AAI had announced that the airport would be shut till December 6 after heavy rains caused flooding of the runway and nearby operational areas.

“Chennai Aerodrome has been closed up to 12 noon of the December 6, 2015. The situation is being closely monitored and any further action will be taken subject to review for resumption of services as soon as possible,” the AAI, which runs the airport, had said on December 2.

On an average, Chennai airport handles 320 landings and departures. As many as 20 international airlines operates from Chennai airport apart from most of the domestic carriers.

Flood waters that had started to recede began rising again around noon after a new cloudburst that sent residents running for shelter under trees and in shopfronts. Parts of the flat, coastal city remained under as much as eight feet of water for a fourth day.

Many residents have spent days stranded on rooftops since more than 14 inches of rain fell over 24 hours on Dec. 1, the most since the British ruled the city in Tamil Nadu, then known as Madras, 100 years ago.

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India's fourth-largest city, Chennai has boomed in the 21st century as a center for vehicle factories and IT outsourcing. But trash-filled drains and building on lake beds in the rush to industrialization and prosperity has made it more prone to flooding.

Despite combined rescue efforts by the military and civilian emergency services, help has yet to reach many areas. Residents were angered by reports that authorities had released water from brimming lakes without much warning.

In one of the most shocking incidents, 18 patients in the intensive care unit of the MIOT International hospital have died since Wednesday, Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan said, after floods took out generators running life-support systems. An enquiry will be conducted into the tragedy, he said.

Military helicopters dropped food to residents stranded on rooftops and the defense ministry doubled to 4,000 the number of soldiers deployed to help the rescue effort.

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Facing criticism for its handling of the crisis, a battery of senior Tamil Nadu officials defended the government at a press conference at the state's water-logged headquarters on Friday evening.

They said authorities have so far evacuated 127,580 people. More than half of them from banks of rivers are now sheltered in relief camps and are being treated for fever and infections to prevent an epidemic.

V. Raghunathan, 60, a manager at an interior design company living in southern Chennai, 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.

The government restored some commercial flights to a naval air base near the city, and the Airports Authority of India said the Chennai airport would be open for day-time operations for relief flights.

Car factories that export around the world, however, stayed shut.

Affected carmakers such as Renault, Nissan Motor Hyundai Motor and component maker Apollo Tyres will decide on Saturday whether to resume production. 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 overrun 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 any government officials helping 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."

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