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Chennai International Airport completes its first phase of flood-proofing after deluge last year. Is it enough?

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Chennai International Airport completes its first phase of flood-proofing after deluge last year. Is it enough?

The employees of the Chennai International Airport can’t forget how water engulfed the tarmac on December 1 last year. Aircraft were stranded, surrounded by the surging floodwaters of the Adyar river that flows beside.

For the first time in its history, the Chennai airport was forced to shut operations for five days “It was like a Hollywood film,” recalls R Narayanan, an employee, who witnessed the devastation.

“The day the heavy rains began, we noticed a surge in the level of the Adyar river. At night, as water was released from the Chembarambakkam reservoir, the runway turned into a sea.”


The Chennai airport suffered huge losses due to the five-day shutdown: business losses to the tune of Rs 35.5 crore and losses worth Rs 31.06 crore due to damages to communication and navigation equipment and other facilities.

Plan of Action


Once the floodwaters receded, airport authorities began to chalk out a plan of action to flood-proof the fourth busiest airport in the country after Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. A three-phase plan was made, of which the first phase has been completed successfully.

“We have identified and made our plans in three parts for short term, medium term and long term,” says Chennai airport director Deepak Shastri.

“For the short term, we have taken mitigation measures — all the drains have been desilted, widened and strengthened. We coordinated with the local bodies to get the drains cleaned.”

Shastri added that immediate measures to prevent the flooding of runways have been put in place. “We have strengthened our compound walls and widened the Adyar river with the help of the state government. I am sure we will make good use of what we experienced. Even if a repeat of last year’s deluge happens, we will not suffer.”

For the mid- to long-term plan, the airport authority has asked IIT-Madras to collect data and provide them with a solution on how to floodproof the airport for good.

“IIT-Madras has done a 10-day drone survey and is finding out methods of getting back naturals flows of the river,” says Shastri. However, experts point out that the airport authorities have not addressed the actual cause of the flooding of runways last year and unless they do that promptly, instead of putting it off as a long-term strategy, the danger of floods is very real.

“The main reason for the flooding of the Chennai airport were the obstructions in the Adyar river,” says S Janakarajan, water resources expert with the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

“Every river has a natural flow and a path which begins from higher altitudes down to the sea. The Chennai airport is located on the banks of the Adyar river. The obstacles in the river downstream have blocked the natural flow of the river, causing it to flood the airport. We have used GPS visualisers to get some extraordinary findings. The river bed is raised by 2 metres from the Manimangalam area to the point where the Adyar river reaches the airport. Airport authorities have also built the the second runway on the river itself. The width of the river at this point has shrunk as a result. Unless these issues are first rectified, the danger of flooding will remain,” he said.

Airport authorities though blame the floods on unprecedented rainfall and on the work carried out on the Chennai Metro Rail, which they say, destroyed the existing drainage system, causing flooding.


“We are a coastal city,” says Shastri. “We are almost on mean sea level. Therefore the water flow is very slow. Excessive rain will cause problems. No system can prepare itself for rains of the magnitude we saw last year — it is something that happens once in a century. Even so, we are not sitting idle. We have done a lot of work with the help of the state government, the Chennai corporation, the public works department and the district administration. Because of the metro work, they had all the drains across the GST Road. That was the major reason for the flooding in the airport. The metro work is almost finished now,” he says.

Passengers and industry too remain sceptical, like the experts, despite authorities reiterating that the airport is safe. Twenty-nine airlines operate from Chennai to major international destinations, 10 airlines operate with cargo freighters. Annually 23 million passengers use the Chennai airport. By 2022, passenger traffic is expected to touch 33 million.

“Tamil Nadu, particularly Chennai, is able to attract foreign investment and companies because of the international airport here,” says A Srinivasan, a senior software professional working with an MNC.

“Fears over how safe the airport is will reflect on business investments. We cannot blame nature, we have to protect our infrastructure against possible disasters. The flood drowned many industries and factories in the city. If the airport had been open, we could have flown our workers out to safety at least. But the Chennai airport was the first to shut down. We are not sure what will happen this time so we have put in place our own early warning systems,” he says.

 

Source : economictimes

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