Heavy rain battered Chennai on Friday after a brief dry spell, frustrating rescue and relief efforts amid a mounting humanitarian crisis with about 300 killed and thousands left homeless in Tamil Nadu by the heaviest cloudburst in over a century.
Authorities said 14 patients died at a private hospital in the state capital reportedly after floodwaters triggered a power outage, snapping off oxygen supply to those receiving critical care.
About 350,000 people have been rescued so far by defence and disaster response personnel, officials said, but thousands remain marooned in parts of the state with food and drinking water in short supply.
To clear stranded passengers, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) will start limited operations from the Chennai airport from Saturday. The limited operations, the state-run operator said, would be carried during the day while night operations could begin in a couple of days.
“AAI is working on war footing for restoration of affected infrastructure and navigational facilities at Chennai Airport and making efforts to resume limited operations during day time and in visual meteorological conditions,” the body said.
“At 5.30 pm, the water has receded in the manoeuvring area at Chennai airport and the runways and the taxiways are clear of water. The Foreign Object Debris have been removed from the operational area and required repair work on runway and taxiways has been carried out. Serviceability status of all Airport Systems, inter alia CNS equipment, IT systems, Met equipment are under evaluation,” the aviation ministry said.
“The northeast monsoon brings heavy rainfall to the state. About 40% rains are received,” said state relief officer Atulya Mishra. “This monsoon was volatile and unprecedented.”
Anger spilled on to the city’s streets when senior ministers Natham Viswanathan, Sellur Raju and Gokul Indira visited chief minister J Jayalalithaa’s RK Nagar constituency, where people surrounded and heckled them.
Military helicopters dropped food to residents stranded on rooftops in the state and the defence ministry doubled to 4,000 the number of soldiers deployed to help the rescue effort.
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) added 20 more teams to pick up the pace of its operations.
People scrambled in search of higher ground and there were long queues outside the few shops that were open with prices of essential items like milk, bottled water and vegetables skyrocketing.
The Centre on Friday dispatched 17 tonnes of snacks, including noodles and biscuits, 5,000 litres of milk and 100,000 bottles of drinking water as essential relief items.
Mobile phone services that were hit by the heavy downpour this week were partially restored though many ATMs continued to remain shut.
Officials said the city airport will partially resume flight operations from Saturday morning with the runway found to be safe for landings and departures.
The Southern Railway has announced special trains to Tirunelveli, Rameswaram and Howrah from the Chennai Beach station in a bid to clear the large number of travellers stuck in the city.
(With agency inputs)