Chennai had been spared such a visitation. This time there was a double whammy: torrential rains through November that was many times the average under the 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 genset… These included checking and re-sealing the glass ventilator panels through Fenesta closing the window panel on the west by a brick and mortar wall, re-concreting the boundary walls on the south and the west that provide for the exhaust of the genset.
We were thus re-assured of preventing any seepage despite the building flooded with a couple of feet of water during rains. For once the efficient rainwater harvesting system proved an embarrassment! The heavy downpour on 01 December caused concern. We were monitoring anxiously the situation by the hour. By 10 pm our security Azhar assured that there was no seepage and that there was no concern.
By six in the morning Azhar phoned with agitated voice he said, water level rose to around 8 ft from the ground level, entered the ground floor at a height of 4 ft and flooded the entire basement via the staircase.
The whole metro was so full of water. Electricity supply was cut to prevent electrocution. Telecommunication failed. Most parts of the city were so full of water that made it difficult to drive to the office. On the 4th I ventured out driving the car through 3-4 feet of water in a circuitous route. After some 90 minutes of driving I could reach a place just 2 km from my residence. Road ahead was barricaded as the Adyar river en-route was in spate. And long stretches on the 100 ft road with more than four feet of water.
With little improvement I managed to reach the office just around 5 km from my residence. It indeed was a ghastly sight: there was 2 ft of water around the building, pitch darkness inside. The basement was submerged in 8 ft of water and few people around. Diesel pump sets were scarce and the few demanded sky high rates: the hourly rate was more than the rate for 8 hrs earlier and diesel scarce.
For the next couple of days it was a battle to procure diesel, a pump set and to bail out the water with our own staff.
There were several kindly souls. In a survey of the industrial estate that pioneered the concept of industrial estate in the country in the 1950s along with Basha, Vice President of the Industrial Estate Manufacturers Association. The devastation was widespread. Industrial units that were flooded suffered extensive damage of their expensive CMC machines, compressors, office equipment... Flood waters have heaped garbage everywhere. The several units we visited had the same story: of extensive damage of machinery.
Saturday, 5 December: a manufacturer of agro machinery in Guindy, a friend of ours and whose factory was on the road level had additional torrent of water from a canal flowing by the side. Finished engines and other products had extensively damaged. Yet he came to our rescue offering to refurbish quickly one pump set and sent it.
Sunday, 06 December: He did keep his promise by sending the pump set 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.
Monday, 07 December: More good Samaritans on the way...
I drove in to Bharatre 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 re-assured us of help.
An SOS sent to Additional Chief Secretary & Principal Secretary, Industries Dept, Govt of Tamil Nadu, on Sunday, 06 December, had eletricfying response: on the 7th two senior managers of TNPL visited us in the morning and offered to take the drenched books, papers… They organised a truck with six coolies in the afternoon. The latter removed the drenched bundles of books for making pulp to TNPL, in pitch darkness and in slippery surface. We had over 2000 old issues of IE kept as back issues spread over 40 years, one year of daily papers, plain papers and other library books. It was a great help as such drenched old books can emit bad odour and stench. 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 in the floor, all wooden furniture, account books for the past years extensively damaged.
More good Samaritans extended help. Mr Akshay Kumar, Chairman, SERC, helped us reach Mr Venkatesan, SE (Distribution), South, TANGEDCO, who helped us get power supply restored by 9th afternoon.
B Santhanam and his senior colleagues R Subramanian, Eisenhower, Gladston Baskaran, instantly responded to my request by rushing all the way from Sriperumbudur a couple of halogen lamps and an industrial dryer, things we could not get in our searches over the previous 24 hours, 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.
From Monday, the 14th all the offices could function again. But the huge wooden furniture, steel chairs, and false ceiling metal, computer 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, capacitors… still take time for normal work. It may take a few more weeks to clear the debris.
The experience is similar and even more severe for the dozens of manufacturing units spread across the Guindy industrial estate. these have suffered extensive damage of machines and materials. With labour of every type getting scarcer its taking a lot of time to attend even to the clearance of 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.