Despite a mild tremor at 2.15 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon sending several panicked residents out on to the streets, Express Avenue mall was full. Coffee shops were doing brisk business, the food court was bustling and there was a long line of people outside Escape, the cinema. People on the phone excitedly told friends and relatives that they had ‘felt the tremor' and that ‘it was awesome'.
Halfway through my watching Houseful 2 , at 4.25 p.m., Chennai was rocked by a second tremor. A tsunami warning had been issued a couple of hours earlier. The tremor coincided with the intermission for several movies, and midway through buying popcorn, an evacuation alert came through. People carrying their drinks and food were sent away. “No ma'am, this counter is closed,” an employee told my friend. Within minutes, the cinema was empty.
Outside, panic began to slowly build.Loudspeakers announced the evacuation, and asked people to leave as soon as possible. Security guards and other employees guided people to the nearest exit.
From the third floor to the second, an orderly procession made its way down the escalator. From the second to the first, people began running. Close to the basement, parents grabbed their children, a race began for the doors and cars screeched their way to the exit so fast, they nearly knocked down other panicky mall-goers and a queue began to form. Phones buzzed non-stop with rumours of a tsunami and earthquake going viral. “The whole building's shaking,” a young man on the phone shouted out. It wasn't, of course --- it was merely the beginnings of mass hysteria.
At the exit, the mall employee was so scared she kept dropping the change. “Forty five rupees for parking, hurry up,” she gasped. . Within fifteen minutes, the mall was empty. To actually leave the premises though, took nearly ten minutes as cars crowded the entrance and White's Road was clogged It seemed like the whole city was bodily attempting to get as far away as possible from the Marina . Everybody was on the phone, attempting to assure anxious loved. 4.57 p.m., the time given for the tsunami to hit, came and went. When the chaos finally began to ease on Nungambakkam High Road, my friend had one question, “Do you think they'll refund us for the ticket? We only got to watch half the movie.” I had no words.