Media During Deluge in Chennai

MUMBAI: The historic floods of the Century that ravaged Chennai in December 2015 has a few lessons for the media. It was the absence of national media in the initial stages of the deluge and the criticism thereof that brought to fore the relevance of local FM radio to the rescue of the battered people of the flooded plains. The first casualty in the flooded areas was electricity and the hype TV channels wanted to create reached none of the victims who were in dire straits to contact the volunteers for help. It was Chennai Live FM 104.1 that managed an Operational Command post of sorts, connecting the victims and a number of cell phone armed individual volunteers and NGOs. Other FM channels followed suit. All India Radio’s RJs came handy with total service agenda on all days, that followed heaviest dumping of 1605.2 mm by the rain clouds, which accounted for 130 per cent above the average rainfall of the North East monsoons this season in Chennai alone. The rainfall on 2 December in Chennai alone is more than the annual rainfall of some of the wettest European nations.

The realty greed that respected no water places and flood plains converted most of the storm water courses and marsh lands into posh colonies in the last two decades that turned into watery graves in Chennai this monsoon. People unwittingly removed bamboo bushes and trees along the bunds of ponds and reservoirs that added to the misery of Chennai. The Chemberambakkam lake, the life line of Chennai swelled so perilously forcing release of 34500 cusecs of water or 10 lac litres of water per second through the sluice gates on 2 December, inundating fields, homes, the airport and heavily inhabited areas of Chennai mercilessly that never experienced the fury of floods in the past. The only communication possible was through radio waves when the mobile towers, telephone exchanges and sub stations of electricity got flooded and most of the facilities came under water and crashed. Most of the flooded areas had water reaching the first floor forcing power shut down in the whole city. 

The mapping of flood plains and the storm water course in all the inundated areas of Chennai would have taken a few years of survey but the Mother Nature has delineated the same in a matter of few days along with pain and misery to the people of Chennai. Such details documented by radio stations and TV channels would be of great use to the policy makers in the near future. 

But resilience of Chennai was on its best when most of the FM stations started receiving calls from the affected people raising SOS messages. The Radio Jockeys continued without respite to broadcast the distress calls reaching the NGOs and individuals ready to help. Some anchors were checking and telling Chennaiites the rainfall details, road conditions, water level, actual need of the victims from torch light, charge packs, food, milk, blankets medical assistance and so on. An IAF helicopter could evacuate a pregnant woman to labour room with active and accurate information from the spot through cell phone to the studio. The contact details from where the help could reach the affected areas was best done by the FM stations of Chennai when hundreds of land phones with government control rooms could not aid rescue when they went dumb due to gushing waters. One thing was very clear, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Jains… every one joined hands breaking the divisive barriers of religion, language or the region. Foremost in the minds of the rescuers was safety of human beings and rescue operations by teams and individuals with the tinge of heroism. Humanity was reigning supreme. 

It was the innovative skills of Radio Jockeys that kept repeating dos and don’ts for the people in the hours of emergency. While the TV channels contributed immensely to show the external world, the gravity of the devastation with a bird’s eye view of affected areas, the Army, Navy and NDRF could do the rescue operations efficiently. The credit for huge resource mobilisation of relief materials and efficient dissemination of information and resultant coordination goes to the electronic media of Chennai especially, the FM Radio. 

Chennaiites are proud of their media at its best in the cause of relief and rebuilding. 

(The views expressed here are those of the author and need not necessarily subscribe to the same.)

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