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Receding flood waters in India's Chennai bring little relief to residents

Receding floodwaters continue to cripple India's southern hub of Chennai as relief workers struggle to deliver drinkable water and restore communications. Record monsoon rains peaked last Tuesday, claiming 250 lives.

India's fourth largest city remained partially swamped by receding floodwaters on Sunday as residents jostled for scarce groceries, fuel and cash from depleted bank dispensers.

Sanitation workers sprayed insecticides to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

On Saturday, a few railway services had resumed from Chennai's main train station and some relief flights resumed at an air force base near the main airport. Officials said commercial services might resume Sunday.

Dry weather was forecast for next week after the long spell of torrential rain that on Wednesday left Chennai, a major IT and automobile hub with 4.6 million residents,

up to two-and-half meters (eight feet) under water.

Shortages, power outages

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) spokesman Rekha Nambia said the organization's teams were focused Saturday on providing drinkable water in areas still submerged by stagnant water or left layered in mud without normal facilities.

Indien Schwere Überflutungen in Chennai

Boats instead of cars were needed at the flood's peak

"We have no power, no milk for the children," one resident M.A. Scheikh told Reuters in Tamil Nadu state shortly before authorities began distributing food packets.

"We feel quite helpless," said Malti Somon in central Chennai. "The landline phones are not working. And my cellphone is dead because there is no electricity to charge it."

The Reserve Bank of India said it would remain open during the weekend to help replenish cash to dispensers that had been emptied or had lost power.

Health officials said the deaths of 18 hospital patients were being investigated after floodwaters disabled generators that should have kept equipment such as ventilators running.

Another recovery job was to deal with hundreds of cars and motorcycles piled up by receding floodwaters in city streets.

Poor urban planning

Experts blamed poor urban planning for the inundation of Chennai and neighboring areas. Some linked the extreme rainfall to a spillover effect of the El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean.

Residents, including those rescued by soldiers from rooftops at the height of the flooding, complained that authorities had given little or no warning of sharp water level rises before opening overflowing reservoirs into the region's Adyar river.

Tamil Nadu senior official K. Gnanadesikan had on Friday defended the relief efforts, saying those involved were doing an "extraordinary job under trying circumstances."

ipj/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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