Chennai Floods – Two Months Later: How a City Bounced Back

Editor’s Note: Many people are inspired by news coverage to make an an impact. Recently, one of CNN’s own returned to his homeland to try to make a difference after deadly flooding. This is his story. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author.

Story highlights

At least 272 people died from the flood waters in Chennai.

Chennai had record breaking rainfall with nearly 16 inches in just a 2 day period

Some of the hardest hit places were the slum areas like Saidapet

CNN  — 

It’s been a little more than two months since heavy rains flooded the southern Indian city of Chennai. Roads turned into rivers and thousands were trapped in the dark. In early December, the city could count nearly 16 inches of rain in just a two-day period, according to CNN weather. Between October and December, at least 272 people died in Chennai from one of the worst floods in over a century, according to the National Disaster Response Force.

The story hit close to home for me. I was born in Chennai and my parents grew up there. Family members sent updates on the devastation. It was difficult to see the places and areas I visited as a child in ruins.

I wanted to help. I mined social media and asked people to send in pictures and video. I was flooded with stories of heroism and survival. I set up a fundraising page in Atlanta and raised $9,000 through crowdsourcing and a fundraiser concert, pledging to go to India on my own dime to donate the funds to those who needed it.

When I arrived at the beginning of January, I found so many people banding together to help. Several charities set up centers where food was prepared and packed so volunteers could distribute it. It was heartwarming to hear stories where Muslims and Hindus provided shelter and food for each other.

For the flood relief, one group focused on repairing infrastructure like damaged buildings and schools as well as replacing equipment ruined by rain waters. The group, Bhumi, is an independent youth based volunteer non-profit organization in India whose mission is to educate and mentor children from orphanages and slums.

Other groups like Habitat for Humanity India distributed aid kits to families with essential supplies like mats, towels sheets and buckets. SEWA USA’s partner organizations in India helped out families in other parts of Tamil Nadu state including Tiruvallur and Cuddalore.

Most people in the city who had access to cell service or the Internet turned to social media for help. People created groups and listed drop-off/pick-up points for supplies and stranded families. The slum areas were some of the hardest hit especially in the suburb of Saidapet. The waters rose above bridges and decimated homes and lives. Many people in the slums said they had little warning and had to grab what they could and move to higher ground.

Even though the flood waters have now receded, it was wonderful to see how a city came together to help one another out. For me personally, it was important to help the people in my hometown.