As relief work moves through the city, North Chennai is still waiting for help.

BY JAYASHREE ARUNACHALAM

It’s been seven days since the deluge of December 2 dumped 40 cm of rain on Chennai but Appar Swami Koil Street in Thiruvotiyur is still covered with flood water about one foot deep. The residents are still waiting for relief workers to show up.

Mallika Kannan’s one-bedroom flat holds all the memorabilia from her 35 years on this road—framed family photographs, clothes, earrings and a necklace passed down from her grandmother. She stands in the stuffy living room wringing her hands. They’ve had no power or water for six days. She and her 10-year-old son and husband have been managing with a bucket of water she gets every day from the neighbourhood pump.

Her father’s body lies on the cot in the bedroom. He died on December 5.

For three days Mallika has been trying to find someone to help with the body, to no avail. The world of Facebook and Twitter updates is far away, as is the everyday dependence on texts and phone calls. The family has been cut off since December 2 when the water stood waist-high in the street. There were no ambulances, no boats, and no government help.

“No one even came here,” she says. “Who cares about north Chennai, anyway? We’re not rich. We’re all labourers.”

The water is ankle-deep outside and three trees have fallen, making access difficult. Residents stand in clusters, waiting for someone to turn up. Mallika’s son has a hacking cough and a slight temperature. She doesn’t know what to do next. There is no traffic: on this street on or Thiruvotiyur High Road beyond.

Fakir Street in Royapuram is no different. The power went out on December 2 and there’s no sign of it yet. The local grocer has just got a fresh stock of vegetables for the first time in a week. He opened 15 minutes ago, but a queue of 20 people is already waiting. One kilogram of okra (ladies finger) costs Rs 250 and tomatoes are Rs 200 a kg. The sachets of milk and the more expensive cartons have vanished. A packet of milk powder is retailing at Rs 70.

North Chennai is the older, less fashionable part of the city and relief teams are only expected this week.

“We have 250 grams of rice and some paruppu (dal),” says Ersamma, who lives in a one-room house on Fakir Street. “My two sons and their wives and children have been staying with me since their houses near Kasi Ttheatre were flooded. We have no drinking water. Any shop that is open is selling it at over Rs 80 per bottle. How can we afford it?”

At the end of Fakir Street, a temporary shelter is operating from a corporation school but the people staying there say there are no working toilets or food. “We were boiling rain water to drink on the one gas connection available but that also ran out,” says Shanthi Kannappan. She was forced to leave her house in the next street when the water climbed into her first floor flat. It has receded now but she hasn’t gone back yet. “Everything is gone anyway,” she says.

Mallika finally managed to find volunteers on her road to take her father’s body away in an SUV. But there was no space for her and she needed to look after her son at home. “We can only hope he reached somewhere safely,” she says. “And we hope someone will come help us here.”

 

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