The crazy Tuesday
I woke up disturbed by the sound of commotion outside my apartment. As had become practice for the last few hours, the first thing I did was to take a look at the water level on the road. I switched on the torch and strained to see the road through my netted window. It was a surprise and then a shock. The footpath was not to be seen; on looking closer I saw water in our parking area; it had touched the bottom axle of the tyres. And my home was in the ground floor, about 3 feet higher. Without power for 9 hours, we had gone to bed at 8pm itself and at that time the level was below the footpath outside and it had stayed fairly constant at that level for a long while; now within 3 hours it had shot up by a feet.
The neighbours were chatting about the problem in Saidapet.
“The bridge has broken.”
“A water line has burst there and is flooding the place. The water is flowing through our area. It’s coming from the overflowing lake.”
About 15 minutes later I inspected the level; my reference point was the car tyre; my mind felt it had gone up but I calmed myself saying that it was probably because of some ripples that were flowing across. 15 minutes later, my doubts were erased - the water was definitely rising. This was the first time water had breached our complex which was built on a slightly elevated platform.
This had become a crazy day for me; in the morning I was reaching out to office folks to check their state and coordinate for help and information in case they were stranded. And now I was also stranded and cut off.
Is this the end?
At about midnight we dispersed since there was nothing we could do. I could hardly catch any sleep - my mind was calculating how fast the water was rising and how long it would take to enter our home; about 6am was my guess. No power, inverter would last for a short while and I was conserving it for night for my mom, no mobile connectivity, deluge of water all around (street had about 4 feet of water).
I decided to monitor the level whenever i woke up - which was pretty much every 30 to 60 minutes. At 2am I felt the pace had perhaps slowed a little and it would take a little longer to breach our home; ETA 8am.
I used a little bit of the inverter to watch the news on TV; and it was frightening - homes were flooded with water. Even when we used to have water only at the street level, I knew there were many places that got badly hit; with the current level in my place, the news confirmed that the levels reached elsewhere were life threatening. They announced that the airport was shut for 5 days. The headlines read “City of 5 million stranded”. Your heart aches when you see such images.
At 3am lying in bed, worried to hear the intensity of rain picking up, I wondered if this may be the end. The army was rescuing people in the city but how many people could they save? They were also going to be limited in resources and people. At least we had 3 floors above that we could move up to; but thousands wouldn’t have the luxury. And if nature wanted, it could keep the rains continuing and wipe the city.
At 4am the water had crossed the first step; another 3 steps or one more foot of water and it would be in our home. I recollected all the things I would have to pack up for evacuation.
During the night I heard a lady in the opposite bungalow calling out to her mom to come up to the top floor; theirs was a two storey home. It was painful to hear the worried voice - and there was nothing anyone could do since to reach their home we had to cross the street and that was almost impossible. All I could see was a candle, and I hoped that the old lady had reached upstairs safely.
All of life in a suitcase
At 5:30am, with some trace of daylight I got busy in action - the water had gone up a little but only by a few centimetres - it had slowed in the last hour for sure; at this rate ETA was surely after 8am. I plucked all documents and dumped them into a suitcase; and also packed a smaller bag with few clothes. At around 7am, one of the uncles said that the water has been at the same level since 4am. I wasn’t so sure but at 8am it definitely hadn’t risen any further. We spoke with our neighbours in the first floor and they told us to come over whenever needed; and in turn they also packed their important documents in case things went further downhill.
Finally all these years had come down to one suitcase! And I knew that if the situation went to a life or death case, even that suitcase wouldn’t matter.
Fortunately, the water level didn’t rise after that. In fact we saw it go down a couple of centimetres; not much but it did give some room for safety and assurance.
The landline surprisingly worked - and i tried calling folks in the city; most were unreachable but one person said his place was ok and he kept me updated about the news. I heard from a person living outside the country that the forecast predicted rain for another week! The city wouldn’t hold up for another week of this.
The strength of the flood even displaced cars that were parked on the road by a few metres.
How long can you survive?
With the threat of our home flooding low, next worry was about supplies. Do we have enough to last this out - we had no idea how long it would take for the water to recede. There was no way we could drive; no way we could walk with elderly people through chest high water. I remember reading that we could live without food for 2 or 3 weeks but without water it was only 3 days.
We rationed the food we had – survived on dosa and idli for which we fortunately had some extra batter left and which even without the fridge didn’t get spoilt. We had stock of rice and lentils and some potatoes – food wasn't going to be an issue. Water was - all the homes in our complex had water for about a couple of days. We used edibles like oranges and tomatoes - I assumed that would help with getting some nutrients and satiate thirst.
When I heard from a colleague staying in a nearby hotel that the hotel told their residents to leave because they could only provide food and water for 2 days it was worrying; if they couldn’t get supplies where would we?
I spent the daytime reading a survival pocket guide which I had bought many years ago. It was written by a SAS (Special Air Forces) agent; part of their training and role requires them to survive in extreme hostile conditions - floods, hurricanes, forests etc.
The guide read…
“Do not venture out in floods if you have provision to go to higher ground. Do not stop rationing of supplies till you get supplies replenished. Do not use salt water or urine for drinking even after boiling them. They can be consumed if you distill. Boil rain water and consume. Do not use flood water because sewage will exist.”
For some reason I had never thought of rain water till then; with rains lashing us and with us having enough gas to run the stove, that seemed a good option. And that’s what we did on day 3. We even opened our overhead tanks to fill up rain water; used buckets to get a few and supply them to homes in our complex.
Quite a situation - the city was flooded by water and yet no water to drink; an elderly man in our place said, "We have to go back to the old days; build wells that we can use."
We lived in darkness for about 4 days. There were people from low lying areas who were trying to migrate to higher ground; we heard some neighbouring roads were clear of water. It was a painful sight - an elderly man carrying a suitcase on his head and holding his wife by the other hand wading through hip high waters; we tried helping some as they passed by. But being ourselves down on supply there was only little we could do.
Partial return to normalcy
Late in day 3 the rains had become scattered and few - but those few bursts were frightening because they struck with intense force; on day 3 a few folks ventured out for supplies in an SUV - they got a couple of drinking water bottles for their homes; a few small shops were open 3 or 4 kms away; at least the milk was being sold at normal rates in this area - i heard that in some places they charged 4 times the money for it. Vegetables were expensive - about 5 to 10 times more expensive than normal. ATMs were out of money and supplies in supermarkets I heard ran out quickly. Petrol bunks that happened to open were flooded with people filling fuel in cans and bottles. A lot of this would have been due to fear and wanting to stock up on supplies.
A few kilometres away there was still seven feet of water on the main road; people were dumping spoilt supplies (rice, lentils etc.) and damaged electronics and furniture in the water. Dead cattle was floating around and even one dead person was floating.
Towards end of day 4 power was restored and we began to get back to normalcy; shops still shut but at least with power we could get drinking water at home; water logging had gone down to ankle height. Few people did leave the city of day 3 since cars could ply certain roads. Some neighbouring roads are still in hip deep water.
We were among those very fortunate and privileged. So many lives had been lost, homes swept away, sewage flooding homes, property bought after years of hard work damaged and washed away. And there were more sad stories of few folks who tried rescuing people getting engulfed by the flood.
One person on television said, “It is like a second birth for me.”He said it from the standpoint of materials he lost; but there is a lot more meaning in that statement.