NEW DELHI – The heaviest rainfall in more than 100 years has devastated swaths of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, forcing thousands to leave their submerged homes as schools, offices and an airport remained shut for a second day Thursday.
Chennai, the state capital, received more than 13 inches of rain over 24 hours, significantly higher than the average for the entire month of December, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said.
“I can’t even believe that this much water is possible in Chennai,” a woman told NDTV television as she stood in waist-deep water.
“We don’t have any food. We don’t have any milk,” she said, adding she was searching for a shop selling food, “but I’m scared to walk down this road.”
Low-lying neighborhoods and the city’s airport were almost completely submerged. The Airport Authority of India said the airport is likely to remain closed until Sunday.
The main train station was so heavily flooded Thursday it had to halt operations.
Hundreds of army, navy, police and fire department rescuers helped evacuate people trapped in their homes. Twitter and other social media were flooded with calls for help from across the city.
News reports said floodwaters released from a lake on the outskirts of Chennai inundated more neighborhoods in the city. The Adyar River, which runs through Chennai before draining into the Bay of Bengal, was flowing above the danger mark.
At least 269 people have been killed in the state since heavy rains began in early November, Singh said, although no deaths have been reported in the latest deluge.
The downpour eased early Thursday, but the Indian Meteorological Department predicted more heavy rain in several parts of the state throughout the rest of the week. The rains are caused by a depression in the Bay of Bengal, the department said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi surveyed the destruction and flooding from an air force helicopter.
Arun Ebenezer was visiting a friend when heavy rains began to lash the city Tuesday. From his friend’s apartment he could see that a bridge on the Adyar River had broken. Floodwaters began to rise and entered his car’s engine, stranding him for two days.
On Thursday the water was still too high for him to head home, where his mother was staying alone.
The state government cut power to several parts of Chennai as a safety measure to prevent electrocutions. Most deaths in the last month of rains have been due to drowning, electrocution and wall collapses.
India’s main monsoon season runs from June through September, but the period from October to December – also called the retreating monsoon – brings the most rainfall to India’s southeastern coastal areas.
The extreme weather in Chennai comes as heads of state are meeting in Paris to discuss a new treaty to limit global warming. Experts say the floods in the city are most directly linked to the El Nino weather pattern, when the waters of the Pacific Ocean get warmer than usual.
“This year saw the strongest El Nino ever recorded,” said G.P. Sharma, vice president of meteorology at Skymet, a private weather forecaster. He said that was indicative of an extremely heavy retreating monsoon.
This year, India had a weaker than usual summer monsoon, as it usually does in an El Nino year.
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