When Cyclone Vardah hit parts of Tamil Nadu on Monday, it brought back memories of last December when mass floods put most of Chennai underwater.
But for many the travails of Centre’s demonetisation have made it worse this time around. The storm disrupted electrical lines, internet services and mobile telephony in Tamil Nadu districts, adding to the sufferings of thousands of people already affected by the Narendra Modi government’s decision to scrap two high-value currency notes.
“We could deal with the floods. Everyone banded together and helped each other out. But now no-one has any money to help or even buy food or supplies for themselves,” Stephen S, an auto-driver, says.
When Logesh S heard the first rumblings of the cyclone Vardah, his remembers praying for his boats.
“All of us here were praying that our boats did not get destroyed,” the wiry 42-year-old fisherman from Chennai’s Nochi Kuppam said, picking through the remains of the corrugated iron shack that was once his home.
“This is something we can rebuild from, though it will cost a lot,” he says, gesturing towards a group of men sorting through the wreckage. “But earning the money to do so, especially now, is difficult.”
It’s been a common complaint since Vardah left a trail of destroyed trees and broken power lines in Chennai and its surrounding districts, killing 16 people and plunging thousands into darkness.
“How am I supposed to manage? There has been no power or water in my building since Monday and I cannot withdraw any money to buy provisions” KS Bhanu, a retired civil engineer, says. “It’s a complete disaster,” the 72-year-old adds.
It’s a Catch-22 situation for many of the residents here: Either you find a powered ATM with no cash, or you find one that isn’t powered.
“Networks are down so our cards are also useless,” complains Preeti Soundararajan, a 34-year-old techie with TCS. “There’s no electricity or water at home and now we can’t even afford to buy food or supplies because none of us has change.”
The Tamil Nadu government appears to have learned its lessons from last year’s floods, with constant updates and its new chief minister, O Panneerselvam, visiting Chennai, Kancheepuram and Thiruvallur to assess ongoing relief efforts.
More than 9,000 workers have been deployed by the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO) to restore power to the state capital, with Panneerselvam pledging to restore power across the city by Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday morning it was clear that parts of the city were still trying to limp back to a semblance of normalcy.