On the Ground in the Chennai Floods

Sri's story of surviving the flood and rescuing relatives

Our IT lead, Sri, has shared his story of the last few days in flooded Chennai. He was able to upload the following to a Google Doc:

Day 1—Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

It all started with heavy rains. Many of us headed to the office for work, and by the evening the rains had become so bad that many lakes around the city been broken or overflowed their banks.

Chembarambakkam Lake is one of the city’s sources of drinking water. For the first time in over 40 years, the water has risen rapidly on the river, breaching the road. By evening most parts of Chennai had been flooded heavily by the release of an estimated 30,000 cusecs [a unit of flow equal to one cubic foot per second] of water from Chembarambakkam Lake. This made the commute very difficult. All cabs, buses, and trains were halted and many of us had to stay in the office itself.

Day 2—Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Many of our staff went the hard way to reach their homes to take care of their families and belongings. A few came back to office because their houses been flooded heavily. Some of us couldn’t reach our homes due to the water everywhere.

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Luckily some of the shops in the office food court were serving food. We got the food for everyone who stayed in the office.

Somehow we have been trying to manage IT support with the IT staff who were already in the office. Many of us did double shifts and continued to work to give 24/7 coverage. Our staff stayed in the office and woke up to continue the shifts. Remote work become impossible due to power being shut down all over the city and network services having been terminated.

We tried to get accommodations in the Asiana hotel inside Ascendas [the location of FULL’s office in Chennai] but unfortunately all the rooms had already been reserved by other companies.

From noon on, our communication devices stopped working. We were not able reach our families to know their status, which started making us more worried.

Anand, Vali, Maha, Madhavan, and I went to Thiruvamur through hip-level water. We got some bedsheets from Maha’s house and bought additional food and snacks for the people back in the office. We walked back to the office in the dark streets with the same hip-level water, and were also able to get food from our food courts to serve our needs for that night.

We continued to stay in the office, taking naps in bean bags. By midnight the water level had reached inside the ground floor up to the lobby lifts [elevators] area. Ascendas had shut down the lift services and was running the whole building with minimum power, using the diesel generators. There was an announcement that they only have diesel to run the generator for one more day.

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Day 3—Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

The same conditions continued and the water level increased even more. A few people staying in the office decided to face any challenges and use any means of transport to join their families back in their home towns. Anand and I were in the same position—worried too much about our families, knowing they were locked in the most flood-affected areas with no communications.

Meanwhile a few more people reached the office looking for shelter and food, as their homes are flooded with water and they had lost all communications.

We manage to get breakfast and lunch again for everyone staying in the office today.

With the very minimum IT staff, we were able to continue to provide 24/7 coverage. Our IT staff continue to work by taking small naps in the office, and by evening two more IT staff made their way to office to help cover IT support.

How I Reached Velachery to Rescue My Mom and Niece

Water had filled all the streets quickly. I didn’t think I would get stuck inside office for three days, and was completely afraid about the safety of my family. From the second day, all communications were broken, due to network issues and lack of electricity. This made me totally afraid, knowing my family was back there in the waterlogged areas. By the morning of the third day, I couldn’t wait any more to see them so I decided to face all the challenges to reach them.

Anand was also in the same position—desperate to see his wife and newborn girl who were trapped in the waterlogged areas in Pallavaram. Together, along with Vali Shah who came along to help us, we set out.

Our journey started by walking from the office to Tidel Park railway station, where the water level was up to our hips. We then went to get train tickets, but the queue was too long. Realizing it would definitely take hours to get tickets, we decided to travel without tickets and got to hop into the local train to reach Velachery Station.

From there walked again through the water to cross the road to get into the street where my house is located. It’s just about 200 meters from there, but the water level was more than 5 feet. A college guy was trying to help me cross the waters with a raft he made using plastic drums, but unfortunately the raft got broken in the middle and we had to get down in the water.

The thing I was most afraid off was the snakes. I finally reached my house and saw half the ground floor underwater. All the cars and two-wheelers were in the water, but luckily my parents were on the first floor and safe. My mom and niece started to cry seeing me reach them.

There was no power and no food for them. Mom was really in need of her diabetes medicines very urgently. I was totally in confusion, thinking only of getting them out of that place. But the priority of getting the medicines stuck with me, so I decided to walk again in the water with very little swimming experience. On the way, I helped a family with kids trying to cross the water with same raft which was broken when I had used it.

 

I then finally reached the road where Vali Shah was waiting for me. We both started to hunt for shops to get food and medicine for my mom. We travelled again through the chest-level waters, walking on the medians and climbing the electric posts. We went more than 3 kms and found some shops where we could get medicines, fruits and snacks. (Thanks to those people who kept their shops open, not just for making money but to help people).

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We were so tired from walking in the deep water for so long. On our way back we got a van to help us cover some distance by paying 50Rs. [50 rupees is about 75 U.S. cents]. From there the water level was too high for the van to drive, so then we hopped into a bulldozer that helped us move some 500 meters and charged us Rs.200 [about $3 U.S.].

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And we appeared on the news, too :)

After getting down from the bulldozer, we started to walk again through the water to reach the street where my house is located. On the way I happened to see another snake that crossed right below my foot step. Fearfully, we continued to walk and reached the street where I had to cross more than 5 feet of water. I saw a few people trying to help others cross a stretch of 200 meters using floating tyres, so I paid Rs. 200 [$3 U.S.], hopped into one, and reached my home. I requested them to help my mom and niece to move out from the flooded water.

The people with the tyres came back after an hour to rescue, me, mom and my niece. We three hopped in two floating tyres joined together. I had to pay them another Rs500 [$7.50 U.S.], but still I would like to thank them for helping my mom to come out of the waters safely. We then walked to a railway station, hopped on a train, and reached my sister’s house safely at Royapeth.

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Pictured above: Sri’s mother and niece in the boat, as he walks through the water behind.

Anand went his own way to reach his home, but I didn’t hear back from him after reaching his place. By evening Vali Shah and I came back to the office, walking again n the hip level water, to see the situation and check on the people staying in office. All were able to get dinner from the office food court and so we stayed the night in the office again.

By the end of the day we heard on the news that the water released from Chambarapakkm Lake had been reduced from 30,000 cusecs to 15,000 cusecs [again a cusec is a measure of flow equal to one cubic foot per second]. That sounds like a good sign. We are hoping to see the water reduce by morning.

Day 4—Friday, December 4th, 2015

We are happy to see the sun in the morning. The water level was reduced outside our office building. It restored our faith in getting back to normal life soon.

A few more people came to the office to find shelter and to charge their phones. We are trying to reach all our staff by calling to check on their safety. [Note: as of Saturday, all FULL staff have been accounted for.]

We managed get breakfast again from Ascendas for everyone. Our admin team member Maya came to office and got permission from our neighbouring office KRDS to let our people who were staying in office for all three days take a shower.

We are trying to get additional food and stock it for lunch and dinner.

IT continued to provide support coverage around the clock.

We ensured everyone is safe, and helped a few to get to their homes or transportation out of the city.

A the end of the day I went back to my sister’s house to check on my parents and took accommodation there.

Day 5—Saturday, December 5th, 2015

The rescue ops.

In the morning, I reached the office to see our IT heroes continuing their efforts to keep IT Support up and running around the clock. We then had breakfast together with everyone who stayed in the office.

The day started out sunny and most areas are recovered from the waters, but the damages are serious and people couldn’t get food and other basic needs. Mobiles network are still down. We decided to go find some colleagues to check if they are safe.

Vali Shah, Bharath, Jenisten, and I packed 250 biscuit packs, bananas, and a few water bottles and hit the road with our bikes to begin the rescue operations. The roads are still not good to drive without our stunts. We first reached Saranya’s house and confirmed she is safe, and then went to Padmaja’s house with some food and snacks, and she is safe too. We continue our search in other areas to find our friends. Some places were really bad to get in as the water level is too high.

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After hours of rescue ops, we reached a slum where people are badly affected. Drainage water completely fills the street and people hang out of their houses as everything inside is gone or drenched in the floods. We distributed the biscuits we carried their to the kids and families.

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This post will be updated as more information becomes available about the Chennai floods.

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