By Rachel Chitra & Alex J. Richardson
BENGALURU/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Tech enthusiasts across India joined hands to assist those left stranded by deadly flooding in the southern city of Chennai, using social media to crowd-source information to supply food, top up mobile phone credits & offer refuge.
Incessant rainfall in India's fourth most-populous city has cut off more than three million people from basic services & disrupted power supplies, with the authorities under fire for slow relief & rescue operations.
Volunteers & companies have responded by using online tools such as Google documents & social networks like Facebook & Twitter to organize their own crisis response, with some setting up dedicated online resources to assist others in need.
"We are passing rescue requests to government officials & local people," said Krish Ashok, part of a team running Chennairains.org, which lists verified details of those offering shelter, water & clothing.
The Indian military has struggled to evacuate thousands of residents stranded in & around Chennai. Heavy rains in Tamil Nadu state have killed at least 269 people & critically injured 1,000.
Mobile & internet services, though intermittent, have become the key mode of communication between those offering & seeking aid in the coastal IT outsourcing hub.
Practo, a company that connects patients to doctors, issued a public Google document with a list of 57 doctors available for consultation. The list was being updated by a five-member team.
"We are checking doctors' availability hourly due to the connectivity issues. We're moreover adding details of doctors who've reached out & volunteered to help," a Practo spokesman said.
On social media, citizens used hash tags such as #ChennaiRainsHelp to share helpline numbers, offer free food & drugs & even arrange conference calls for those out of credit on their mobile phones.
Ammar Kanchwala, a Hyderabad-based IT executive, said he had used his own funds to add calling credits to approximately 50 mobile phone users who were stranded.
Sriharan Balan, a 25-year-old travel consultant in Chennai, was using Facebook to reach out to those in need & supplying them with home-cooked food. "These are all my people. Obviously, I need to assist them," he said.
Three software developers moreover used data from several sources to build a dynamic map that shows flooded roads in the city.(http://bit.ly/1TtRB2e)
While 18,000 people have been evacuated from rooftops & outlying villages, many remain in dire need of basic supplies.
Ola, India's leading online taxi firm that last week worked with fishermen & professional rowers to co-ordinate boat rescues, said it was running temporary homes that were equipped with relief supplies.
(Additional reporting & writing by Aditya Kalra; Editing by Douglas Busvine & Alex Richardson)