The conference room at entrepreneur Sam Paul’s office in Kilpauk has been converted into a temporary kitchen since 1 December. Jagan, a volunteer, is ladling sambhar and rice into aluminium foil containers to be distributed among flood-affected people. “All this food has been donated by people from all around the city. We are packing it here and then our volunteers will drop it off at places that need it," he says.

The rest of the office looks like a warehouse of sorts—big plastic packets stuffed with biscuits, a few packages of precious milk, blankets and old clothes, more food, and packaged water.

There was temporary relief from rain on Friday morning but now the skies are once again grey and angry. Paul, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, stands under a umbrella in the pouring rain, talking to a person who wants to donate money.

“We don’t need money here," he says, “What we really need now are blankets. People are wet and cold."

One such person is Sheela. “We came to Chennai from our village because my grandson is very sick," she says, holding the shivering child close. “Now we have nothing except the clothes on our back and there is no way to go back," she says.

Tamil Nadu has received record rainfall this year; it has been 89% more than normal. On 1 December, particularly, there was unprecedented rain, bringing life to a grinding halt. It was literally Chennai’s version of Mumbai’s deluge on 26 July in 2005.

Roads caved in, transport services were crippled, people were marooned at home and in office, and factories stopped production. Train and bus services are still severely affected. The airport is shut till 6 December as the runway is flooded. The air force has established an air bridge between the airport and the air bases in Arakonnam and Tambaram (on the outskirts of Chennai), ferrying stranded passengers to Delhi.

Rivers and lakes are in spate, leading to severe flooding in many parts of the city. Many areas are still without electricity; the power supply has been cut as a precautionary measure and invertors and generators are running out of fuel. Essential commodities are in short supply: long queues of people wait outside stores for hours, only to be told that supplies of milk, bread and vegetables are exhausted.

Around 300 people have died so far, including 14 ICU patients at MIOT Hospital on Friday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after an aerial survey of the city on 3 December, sanctioned 1,000 crore for relief work, in addition to the 940 crore sanctioned earlier. He also agreed to deploy 10 Army columns and 20 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams for rescue work.

While the state and the Centre are doing their best to ease the situation, the citizens of Chennai aren’t far behind. Using social media platforms like Facebook, several volunteer groups have helped facilitate rescue work and collected and distributed food. Temporary kitchens, like the one in Paul’s office, and shelters have been set up; boats, SUVs and trucks are being organized to ferry supplies; homes are opening doors to strangers; doctors are working overtime, wading through knee-deep water to reach the aged and sick.

Krish Ashok of Chennairains.org, a crowd-sourcing platform that has put up lists of those offering shelter, water and food, says, “Technology has been used effectively and it has been heartening to see the response of the people of this city to the disaster. I think that right now we have more people offering help than people asking for it." And that is the need of the hour—help from local people.

Paul agrees, “We started as a small group of friends and today there are 1,500 volunteers here helping us reach over 300,000 stranded people. But we still need everything we can get."

No respite:

An aerial view of Chennai airport taken on 3 December. Photo: PTI
An aerial view of Chennai airport taken on 3 December. Photo: PTI
Residents being evacuated in Kotturpuram by army personnel. Photo: PTI
Residents being evacuated in Kotturpuram by army personnel. Photo: PTI
A Chennai resident wading through the flood waters with a child on his shoulders. Photo: PTI
A Chennai resident wading through the flood waters with a child on his shoulders. Photo: PTI
A partially submerged autorickshaw. Photo: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters
A partially submerged autorickshaw. Photo: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters
A coast guard chopper airlifts a sailor after delivering food material to a flooded residential area. Photo: Arun Sankar K/AP
A coast guard chopper airlifts a sailor after delivering food material to a flooded residential area. Photo: Arun Sankar K/AP
A woman standing in deep water, looks out from behind a fence. Photo: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters
A woman standing in deep water, looks out from behind a fence. Photo: Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters
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