Late evening on December 3rd, an ominous symphony of unrelenting rain and howling winds enveloped the campus, signaling the unwelcome arrival of Cyclone Michaung. Nature’s fury descended upon the college grounds with a relentless downpour that painted the world in shades of gray.
As students awoke to this now-familiar sound the following morning, they found themselves unable to access the mess due to the inundation from the previous night. Certain hostels received food containers containing bread, poha, and dosa, which residents could consume at the hostel lobby using the provided plates. However, a sizable number of hostels did not receive breakfast and were instructed to await a direct lunch instead. Similar situations persisted during lunchtime as food shortages remained rampant despite the mess staff’s best efforts. A revised allocation was sent for subsequent meals, with some hostels receiving food deliveries while others had to venture to their nearest mess halls. On December 4th, only two caterers—First Man and Neelkesh—were operational. Other caterers gradually resumed operations from the morning of the 5th, extending breakfast timings until 10:30 AM.
The Institute announced a public holiday on the 4th and 5th of December owing to the Tamil Nadu government exercising the Negotiable Instruments Act. Closely following this, the workshops and library were also declared closed. The cyclone was predicted to hit on 2nd December and consistent warnings from the meteorological departments warned of the severity beforehand. Yet, one can infer that the preparedness of the administration was far from sufficient.
As Chennai faces similar weather patterns each year, with four cyclones hitting in the exact same week in the past four years, the management cannot state that this was a new scenario they struggled to grapple with. Insufficient storm water drainages, especially in the Swimming Pool road, saw hip-deep water inundation. The suspected presence of crocodiles and snakes in Watsa furthers the anxiety that potentially harmful insects and animals may be present in water-logged areas. No prior measures were taken to relocate students staying in the ground floor or in low-lying hostels. The caterers were severely underprepared in maintaining ingredient stocks and sufficient manpower to handle cooking, parceling and delivery. It is also interesting to see the student run Disaster Management Committee maintaining an eerie silence barring the occasional reshare of emergency contact details.
Thankfully, the ongoing winter vacations mean that most students had vacated their hostels a week prior. Two major events however held back a sizable portion of the student body. December 1 was Day 1 of the placements season which saw numerous company executives throng Cauvery hostel where the drive was held. The lack of electricity and subsequently, internet and cellular signals, made it difficult for the team to communicate schedules, conduct remote tests and interviews or prepare for the same. Providing adequate food, transport and connectivity for the seamless execution of the placement drive was on top priority. Secondly, nearly 200 students are currently on campus as a part of the Inter-IIT Sports main camp. The contingent leaves for the meet soon with the Bombay contingent leaving on 7th December and the Gandhinagar contingent leaving on 11th December. The cyclone halted their practice, especially with water logging at the Watsa stadium and other playfields. It would undoubtedly affect their march past performance, the practice for which requires their collective presence. On 5th December, the practice slowly resumed at feasible locations with the march past practice being conducted on the Himalaya road.
Ascribing this to the larger context of disaster management, one understands that this was the worst rain to hit the city in the last 70-80 years which means that the city reservoirs, drains and infrastructure are obviously ill-suited to keep up with it. It is unrealistic and utopian to expect the campus to remain unaffected by all means. A couple clarifications to note here. The Institute admin must realize the topography of their location and understand the spread and scope of the monsoons that it experiences. Every year that it rains, the campus witnesses the same level of water-logging in the same locations (SAC road, OAT and Watsa). This means that no remedial measures or additional arrangements have gone into disaster-proofing them year on year. It is disheartening to see that there are no set evacuation processes, emergency action teams and contingency food supplies; at least none that the student community was informed of. The administration must also realize the ecological sensitivity of the area, the presence of animals, numerous trees and water bodies that are at risk themselves and pose potential risk to the residents as well. The problems faced by the students are fundamentally due to poor planning and mitigatory mechanisms more than insufficient response mechanisms.
On the bright side, electricity on campus was intermittently restored as opposed to most parts of the city that faced a blackout for over 24 hours. One could also see the meticulous effort taken by the CCW and the mess management in doing the best they could with the resources available to them. Mess members waded through knee-deep water and continuous downpour to deliver food to all hostels. The biggest takeaway of them all is how quickly the campus bounced back to normalcy after the cyclone had passed. By late afternoon on Tuesday, most of the water logging was drained, power and internet restored and messes began to function as usual. The Fifth Estate thanks all mess workers, support staff and student volunteers for coming into clutch at a time of crisis. We hope we all can be prepared if, god forbid, such a situation was to repeat itself.
Edited by Ashita Anil