Rescue and relief operations continued in full swing in Chennai with over a hundred people taken to safety by teams of the Indian Army, the Indian Air Force and the National Disaster Response Force, including a seven-month pregnant woman who was airlifted on Thursday from one of the worst-affected areas in the flooded city.
The NDRF has doubled the number of its personnel in the rain and flood-battered Chennai and adjoining areas to 1,200 even as it rescued over 5,000 people from the marooned areas.
With the addition of 15 more teams overnight to an equal number of units working since Wednesday, the force has begun penetrating deep into the affected areas to aid the marooned including in neighbouring Puducherry.
An official update provided by the force here said over 5,000 people have been rescued till now in search and rescue operations in various parts of Tamil Nadu till 3pm.
Earlier in the morning, a meeting of the Crisis Management Group was convened in New Delhi under the Chairmanship of Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi.
Officials of Ministries of Defence, Food, Railways, Agriculture, Health, Department of Telecommunications, National Disaster Management Authority, India Meteorological Department and the NDRF attended the meeting.
"We have 30 teams, each having 40 members, working in these areas now and we plan to concentrate in the areas of south Chennai which are the worst affected. The meeting chaired by the Union Home Secretary took stock of the preparedness of various agencies," NDRF Chief O P Singh told PTI after the meeting held at North Block.
With heavy rains lashing the capital city, especially in the last three days, several areas are inundated, with water reaching up to almost second storey in certain areas.
"We sent about 120 rescued people to Delhi carried by a C-130J (Super Hercules) on Thursday morning and another 20 have been sent to Arakonnam, from where they will fly out in different aircraft," a senior IAF official said.
Among those evacuated were 50 stranded students from SRM University.
"We are fully prepared to tackle this situation and carrying out regular sorties. We performed several relief and recce sorties today, as we have to save those who are badly stranded as well as give food items to those who are stuck in their homes," Air Commodore Rippon Gupta said at the Tamabaram Air Base, nearly 30 kms from Chennai.
Sukanya (29), who is seven months pregnant, along with her three-year-old child was airlifted from her home in Medumbakkam, near Guindy, one of the worst-affected areas in Chennai.
She was brought Tambaram Air Base in a Chetak helicopter, and then immediately taken to the Base Hospital.
"We moved to the fourth floor of our house as the first and the second floor have become inundated. There is no electricity in our area for the last two days.
"We had lost all hope until they rescued us today," she told PTI.
"My husband will come after me and we are planning to go to Kanchipuram, where my parents are waiting," she said.
Aerial recce and relief operations revealed a harrowing tale as airports, bridges, and housing colonies were seen submerged in 8-10 feet water.
People raised their hands seeking help from roof tops as IAF aircraft flew past them.
"The Chennai Airport is almost washed out, with flight operations still suspended. Runways and parking bays are flooded. A bridge near Saidapet area is completely overrun with water, cutting off areas and isolating people," a pilot, involved in the relief operation, said.
Several students from a private university, who were left stranded in the city, were also brought to the Tambaram Air Base from where they were flown to Bangalore or Delhi.
"We are over 50 students from SRM University. We were stuck in the city until we were rescued last night at about 10pm.
"And, we were then brought to the air base here, where they took care of us, and today we are flying out," 18-year-old George K George, a student and Kerala native, said.
"We are flying them in different batches to Arukonnam Air Base, which has a bigger runway, and one of our main hubs for rescue operations.
"After reaching there, they will be flown in C-17s to Bangalore or Delhi as needed," the senior IAF official said.
Air Commodore Gupta added that "22 sorties were conducted on Wednesday. As long as the weather permits, we will continue to do so and perform rescue and relief operations," he said.
"The idea now is to sort of create an air bridge between Meenambakkum (airport are) and Arkonnam (airbase) and fly maximum people to safety as soon as possible.
"The second air bridge we are looking at is between Tambaram and Arkonnam," Air Commodore Gupta said.
"Our target is also to take 500 people out of Chennai. There are two C-17s stationed at Arukonnam. It has a capacity to carry 250 people and as needed they will flown to Hyderabad, Bangalore or Delhi," he said.
A senior IAF official said they expect to rescue about 1,200 people in next few days.
The Tambaram Air Base on Thursday also sent out at least a tonne of relief material for aerial distribution in several areas.
"The food material includes bread etc and about one tonne we have received at the base here. We have to also send several hundred bags to a hospital in Chennai, which has been badly hit by the rains," Lal Chand Saini, a staff at the Base handling the relief material packaging, said.
Air Commodore Gupta, said, luckily the Tambaram Base is at higher altitude and "so nearby areas here are safe. Otherwise, low-lying areas are not in very bad shape".
The rescue operation in the rain-hit areas is going on in full swing with the Army, Navy Air Force and the National Disaster Response Force working in tandem.
"All assets of the IAF have been pressed into service and we will bring succour to people as early as we can," an IAF spokesperson said.
Railway stations have turned into impromptu shelters while hotels and rescue camps are bursting at their seams, as people rendered homeless are looking for a roof over their heads in the inclement weather.
Students, poor and needy have made the Tambaram station practically their home.
The weather for the next three to four days may get worse, with heavy rains predicted by met department.
"We are trained during peacetime for such contingencies and we are all equipped to handle this disaster ably. And, we will do it," Air Commodore Gupta said.
One column of the army comprises around 75 personnel. The deployment of the NDRF units Chennai (21 teams), Thiruvallur (1 team), Kanchipuram (4 teams) and Vellore and Cuddalore (one team each).
"About 813 life jackets, 515 life buoys and 20 deep diving sets along with 44 trained deep divers are also engaged to assist the local administration in the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief work," an official spokesperson for the NDRF said.
DG Singh said his teams were hopeful of getting into "more and more areas today as the rains have slowed down since Wednesday and we have seen water receding in many areas. We are hopeful of doing more than what we did on Wednesday."
The force has also deployed 2 teams, out of the 30, in Puducheri while another set of NDRF teams are on standby in Patna and Pune which can be airlifted at short notice, he said.
The force has also activated helpline numbers at its control room in New Delhi which are 011-24363260, 09711077372. As the Chennai airport is shut due to flooding, the force is operating from the 'INS Rajali' Naval airbase in nearby Arakkonam.