November 16, 2015 / 6:05 PM / 2 years ago

Deadly rains wreak havoc in southern India, Sri Lanka

Groundsmen walk under an umbrella after steady drizzle washed out the entire second day's play in the second test cricket match between India and South Africa in Bengaluru, India, November 15, 2015.Abhishek N. Chinnappa

CHENNAI, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Floods in south India and Sri Lanka have killed over 70 people -- inundating homes, farmland and highways -- forcing authorities to shut down schools and colleges in some areas, officials and media reports said on Monday.

The floods, triggered by incessant rains over the past seven days, have submerged parts of Tamil Nadu, including its capital Chennai, where most of the deaths and devastation has taken place.

Caused by a depression formed in the Bay of Bengal, the heavy rains have also affected Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, as well as neighbouring Sri Lanka.

Tamil Nadu's Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said a 5 billion rupee ($75 million) relief fund has been set up. She brushed aside criticisms the government was poorly prepared to deal with the flooding in Chennai, one of India's biggest cities.

"The rain that was meant to be spread out over the monsoon months has poured in just a few days," Jayalalithaa told reporters during a visit to a flood-hit area in Chennai.

"No precautionary measures would have managed to prevent water logging and damages. In areas where flooding and damage have been caused, relief, rescue and repair works are being taken up on a war footing," she said.

There are no official figures on the number of deaths, but media reports suggested at least 71 people have died from drowning, collapsing walls and electrocution.

Television pictures showed children in Chennai crammed into boats on water-logged roads, commuters wading through waist-deep waters to get to work and bridges submerged as lakes overflowed.

In Sri Lanka, floods in the northern parts of the Indian Ocean island have affected 58,000 people. One person has reportedly died.

India's southeast coast is vulnerable to annual cyclones in November and December, severe low pressure formations in the Bay of Bengal have resulted in heavier than usual rainfall, say weather officials.

In Chennai, Cuddalore, Kancheepuram, Tiruvallur and Villupuram districts, 23 to 37 cm (9 to 14 inches) of rain was recorded on a single day, much higher than the usual annual average.

Government officials said around 10,000 people living in low-lying coastal areas have been evacuated from their homes and given refuge in relief camps.

The National Disaster Response Force and the army have been called in to help distribute food rations and rescue people stranded due to damaged roads and bridges.

India's weather department forecasts the rains would cease in Tamil Nadu but predicted heavy rain for Andhra Pradesh in the coming days.

Reporting by Sandhya Ravishankar in Chennai. Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in Colombo. Editing by Nita Bhalla. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org

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