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Rescue efforts intensify as deadly rains continue in Chennai

India's military has evacuated more than 2,000 residents stranded in Chennai in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The death toll of the flooding rose to 269 after the heaviest rains in more than a century.

The devastating rainfalls in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have overrun swathes of land, forcing thousands to abandon their homes while others remained trapped in the rising floods. More than 5,000 houses remained under water.

Chennai, the state capital, received more than 330 millimeters (13 inches) of rain over 24 hours. Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that this amount was "significantly higher" than the typical average for December. A massive release of water from an overflowing reservoir swamped low-lying areas of the city further, as dozens of lakes brimming with water alaso started to spill over.

Floods in Chennai

Many parts of Chennai and its suburbs were severely flooded after two days of heavy rainfall

Weather forecasts showed more rain to come over the next 48 hours, making rescue efforts considerably more difficult. The Indian army has so far evacuated 18,000 people from rooftops but many others remained trapped. The floods cut off more than three million people from basic services.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled to Chennai to see the devastation and the ongoing rescue efforts, which have been hindered by further ensuing rain. Modi has blamed climate change for the floods. The Indian Meteorological Department said that the rains were caused by a depression in the Bay of Bengal.

"The government will stand by the people of Tamil Nadu in their hour of need," Modi told reporters, while promising 10 billion rupees ($150 million) for reconstruction. Meanwhile, financial losses resulting from the floods were forecast to exceed $2.25 billion.

Rebuilding infrastructure

Soldiers set up 25 temporary shelters and community kitchens and installed portable toilets to care for the victims of the floods in India's fourth most populous city. A senior federal official said that more than 1,000 people had been critically injured in the floods and were being taken care of at government hospitals.

Watch video 01:27

Flooding causes chaos in southern India

"We will have to resurrect an entire city," said Abhijit Shaw, an army officer who was on the scene. At least 2,000 disaster relief and military personnel were deployed to the area.

But the task of resurrecting an entire city could prove to be difficult as the Chennai airport remained completely submerged. The Airport Authority of India said the airport is likely to remain closed for the rest of the week. A naval air base at Arakkonam, 70km (43 miles) from Chennai, was intended to be used as an alternative airport for relief operations instead.

Experts said that careless construction, faulty drainage in the sewage system and a build-up of trash had all contributed to the disaster.

Twitter as major communication tool

Twitter and other social media platforms became the main communication tools for those stranded in and around Chennai. Many took to reaching out to complete strangers online in a bid to get in touch with their families, as the majority of phone lines broke down in Tamil Nadu state. Other Chennai citizens in safer areas offered their homes and to distribute food on Twitter.

Various companies also responded by using online tools to help organize the crisis response. Skype set up a free service in the area to make it easier for victims to get in touch with their loved ones.

ss/rc (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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