Thought Leadership

Chennai Floods: “Helping Each Other With What They Have”

Swimming through neck-deep water and trekking for miles across the soggy ground, DATAMARK employee Vijay M. endures a three-day journey to find his family.

As it had many times before, the winter monsoon season brought rain to Chennai, India, home to one of DATAMARK’s business process outsourcing facilities.

But this year was different.

In early November, the skies opened up, soaking the city of nearly 5 million residents. As days passed, more monsoons swept through, bringing heavy rainfall and causing flooding in many areas of the city.

Then, over 24 hours, beginning December 1, a record 19 inches of rain fell. With flooding described as the worst in 100 years, Chennai has officially declared a disaster zone.

For DATAMARK training and quality manager Vijay M., the day, rain notwithstanding, began like any other. But little did he or his coworkers know, that they were about to experience an ordeal like no other.

“We were operating full capacity on that day,” Vijay recalled. “Once we got on with our work, not many of us cared what was going on outside the tinted glass windows. But the situation worsened rapidly.

“The employees were stranded at the office not able to reach home and most of their houses were not reachable through office’s transport arrangement. I and all my colleagues stayed in the office to ensure they all reached home because that was most important at that point. We hired almost all modes of transport for the employees to get them home. Meanwhile, I tried contacting my family but the call didn’t go through.”

The next day, Vijay began working his way home. Vijay hitched a ride on a colleagues’ motorbike but was only able to get within four miles of his home before floodwaters made it too dangerous to drive further.

The rain continued, unrelenting.

Seeing familiar neighborhoods mostly underwater, Vijay climbed a temple wall, looking for a way to keep himself dry.

“I realized the magnitude of the problem when I managed to enter the temple,” Vijay said. “Hundreds of people were housed in the temple. I have known them. I have seen their faces. It was devastating to think that they had lost their homes.”

The gravity of the situation prompted Vijay to keep moving. His home and parents were only three streets away, but it may have well been three hundred miles, due to the rising floodwaters.

“I started walking the first street, or should I say floating,” Vijay said. “The water was almost chest high and I was forced to give my wallet and mobile to complete strangers trusting them to keep it safe when I came back.”

He soon found himself in neck-deep water, and residents warned him from proceeding any further. Night fell, and Vijay found an auto-rickshaw parked on someone’s roof to sleep in. He spent 14 hours stranded at that locale until it was safe to move on.

He found his parents and family members safe at home, sheltering some neighbors who had lost their houses.

He learned his wife was at her parents’ home, about 15 miles away. But three days had passed since the start of the flood emergency, and Vijay, his parents, and his neighbors had not eaten during all that time. Vijay first ensured that all got some food before he headed out on a 15-mile trek to find his wife.

“After walking for almost half a day, I was able to spend barely a few minutes with my wife as I had to return to my parents before it fell dark,” he said. “But I saw her and she knew I was safe. That was enough.”

After three more days, the floodwaters receded enough so that people could return to their homes to inspect the damage. Vijay found the ground floor of his home completely destroyed.

“When I opened the door to clean the house, I spotted close to five snakes resting in our living room,” he said.

Despite the damage, Vijay lucked out in some ways. He had left his car in a garage, so it did not get washed away like so many of his neighbors’. He and his family have made the upper floor of their home a living quarters as they begin to make repairs and as life in Chennai slowly returns to normal.

“Though I had lost a lot, I feel a sense of contentment with what we were able to save,” Vijay said.

Initial government estimates have put the death toll due to the flood at close to 300. That number may rise as the waters recede and more bodies are found. Kalraj Mishra, India’s minister of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, said the Chennai floods caused 50,000 people to lose their jobs.

Half a world away, DATAMARK employees in El Paso, San Antonio, and Juarez, Mexico went into action over the Christmas holidays, raising thousands of dollars to assist the DATAMARK team in Chennai.

Vijay said he was touched by the way his community came together to assist those who had lost so much in the floods.

“The entire city of Chennai was able to come back quickly … Nobody was a stranger, everyone considered each other like their own family,” he said. “They were able to help each other with what they had.

“We can just pray that this never happens again. We can just do our best and leave the rest to God.”

If you would like to assist with Chennai’s recovery from the disaster, you can donate through the GlobalGiving website at this link:

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