This December unprecedented floods wreaked havoc on Chennai and the northern coastal districts of Tamil Nadu. This time, there was a double whammy: torrential rains through November that were many times the average; in fact, a record in 100 years.
Economist House in the Guindy Industrial Estate, in which IE and seven other corporates function, was constructed by L&T ECC and had not suffered much in the past. Through November, we laboured to plug possible seepages into the basement that housed the electrical systems, a diesel gen-set, our library, accounts section and stores. We checked and re-sealed the glass ventilator panels, closed a window panel by brick and mortar, re-concreted the boundary wall on the south west that provided for the exhaust of the genset.... This work of ours was supposed to take care any leakage into the basement.
When the nightmare began...
The heavy downpour on 01 December caused concern. We were anxiously monitoring the situation by the hour. By 10 pm our security, Achaduddin, assured that there was no seepage and there was nothing to worry.
By six in the morning, he phoned and with an agitated voice said: “water level had risen to six feet from the ground level, entered the ground floor at a height of four feet and flooded the entire basement via the staircase.” Worse still, the whole metro was full of water. Electricity supply was cut to prevent electrocution. Telecommunications failed. Most parts of the city were so full of water that made it difficult to reach the office. On the 4th, I ventured out driving the car through 3-4 feet of water. I took a circuitous route. After 90 minutes of driving, I could reach a place just two kilometers from my residence! Presto, the road ahead was barricaded as the Adyar river was in spate.
Scarcity of diesel pumpsets...
Next day with some improvement in water on the roads, I managed to reach the office, just around five km from my residence. It indeed was a ghastly sight: there were two feet of water around the building, pitch darkness inside. Electricity supply was shut off that saved precious lives from electrocution.
The basement was submerged in 8 feet of water. Diesel pump sets were scarce and the few leased demanded sky-high rates: the hourly rate was more than the rate for eight hrs earlier; diesel itself was scarce. I ran around for a couple of hours to procure two cans of diesel.
For the next couple of days, it was a battle to procure a pumpset and to bale out the water. There were several kindly souls, though. In a survey of the Industrial Estate along with Basha, Vice President of the Industrial Estate Manufacturers Association, we noticed widespread devastation. Industrial units had suffered extensive damage to their expensive CMC machines, PCBs, chips, compressors, office equipment... Floodwaters had heaped garbage everywhere. The several units we visited had the same story: of extensive damage to machinery.
Saturday, 05 December: A manufacturer of agro machinery in Guindy, a friend of ours and whose factory was at the road level, had an additional torrent of water from a canal flowing by the side. His finished engines and other products had been extensively damaged. He came to our rescue offering to refurbish quickly one pumpset and send it.
Sunday, 06 December: He did keep his promise by sending the pumpset along with his senior technician and an assistant. We started pumping out water from around 1.30 pm. We continued with this for the next 12 hours. We could clear around 80 per cent of the massive column of water.
More good Samaritans on the way
Monday, 07 December: I drove into Bharat Re Insurance Brokers Pvt., Ltd and informed the chief executive T Vijay of the disaster. He and his colleague, Gowri Mani, have been quite understanding and reassured us of help.
A SMS/SOS sent to Additional Chief Secretary & Principal Secretary, Industries, Government of Tamil Nadu, on Sunday, 06 December, had an electrifying response. On the 7th, two senior managers of TNPL visited us in the morning and helped in taking the drenched books and papers. They organised a truck with six coolies in the afternoon. The latter removed the drenched bundles of books, in pitch darkness and slippery surface, for making pulp at TNPL plant at Karur. We had over thousands of back issues of IE spread over 45 years, one year of daily papers, plain papers, and other library books. It was a great help as such drenched old books can emit a bad odour and prove a health hazard. What kindness!
By the 8th, we could pump the water out from the basement and surveyed the damage in darkness. Cabins with glass panes crashed, false ceiling along with lightings came down. There was still water on the floor, all wooden furniture, account books of the past years lost.
More good Samaritans extended help. Akshay Kumar, Chairman, SERC, helped us reach K Venkatesan, SE (Distribution), South, TANGEDCO, who helped us get power supply restored by the 9th afternoon.
B Santhanam and his senior colleagues R Subramanian, S N Eisenhower, Gladston Baskaran and Saravanan of Saint - Gobain Glass, instantly responded to our request, rushing a couple of halogen lamps and an industrial dryer, along with two electricians. These along with three other electricians of Unique Electricals, cleaned and dried the electrical systems, checked the systems and restored power supply to the eight offices of Economist House by the 11th.
Back on feet…
From Monday, the 14th all the offices could function again. But the huge wooden furniture, steel chairs and false ceiling, computers and other damaged office equipment posed a formidable task of clearance. We set about the task of refurbishing the two offices in the ground floor by extensive carpentry work, relaying the wooden floors with tiles and, importantly to, fumigate.
Air conditioners and the lift took a couple of more days to operate. The two gensets, still take time for normal work. It may take a few more weeks to clear the debris.
Of great relief was the concern and succour of our insurer Shriram General Insurance Company, crediting our account with a handsome advance!
The experience is similar and, even more severe, for the dozens of manufacturing units spread across the Industrial Estate. These have suffered extensive damage to machines and materials. With labour getting scarcer it is taking a lot of time to clear even the voluminous garbage and the materials damaged. Industry already in the throes of a stagnant economy would take long to get on its feet. Hopefully, one can bank on the resilience of the entrepreneur and the help extended by numerous good Samaritans and NGOs.