CHENNAI, India, (Reuters) – The Indian military evacuated more than 2,000 residents stranded in the southern state of Tamil Nadu yesterday as the death toll from flooding rose to 269 after the heaviest cloudburst in over a century.
Forecasts of more rain over the next 48 hours forced the army to work on a war footing to rescue survivors trapped in inundated parts of Chennai.
India’s fourth most populous city saw only slight rains yesterday, but water levels had not receded since a day earlier, when a massive release of water from a brimming reservoir swamped low-lying areas of the city.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has blamed climate change for the deluge, travelled to Chennai to get a first-hand view of a rescue effort that has so far been halting.
“The government will stand by the people of Tamil Nadu in their hour of need,” Modi told reporters, promising $150 million for rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Even as the weather cleared, waters rose in many residential areas, fed by spills from 35 lakes that have risen to dangerous levels.
After auto manufacturers and IT outsourcing firms suspended operations on Wednesday, state-run Chennai Petroleum shut down its 210,000-barrels-per-day oil refinery due to heavy flooding. The cloudburst earlier this week dumped as much as 345 mm (14 inches) of rain over 24 hours.
“We live in a city expecting that we will have access to basic facilities. But today, we have no drinking water, no fresh food and no control over our lives,” said Sudha Raman Murthy, a mother of two teenage daughters.
Soldiers set up 25 temporary shelters and community kitchens and installed portable toilets. “We will have to resurrect an entire city,” said Abhijit Shaw, an army officer who was setting up a makeshift maternity ward in a government building.
Floods cut off more than three million people from basic services and hampered rescue efforts by the army, which has so far evacuated 18,000 people from rooftops and outlying villages.