Madurai in 1993 Madurai

Flooding of the temple city

Photo: The Hindu Archives

Photo: The Hindu Archives  

December 1993 remains etched in Madurai’s memory, though the earliest recorded flood was in December 1677, when many huts in the villages around the city were swept away. Rainfall triggered by a severe cyclonic storm between December 1 and 4, 1993, resulted in release of about one lakh cusecs of water into the Vaigai. Simultaneously, the Sathayar dam, a minor reservoir that conserves water flowing in a jungle stream and surplus from dams upstream in Dindigul and Theni districts, overflowed due to heavy rainfall in the Sirumalai Hills. The surplus filled up 14 tanks and resulted in breaches and water release. In Madurai city, a major tank in Sellur breached, submerging many areas in the north.

The 1993 flood was preceded by flooding of the Vaigai in November 1992 when 520 mm rainfall was recorded in a single day in the Manalar Estate of Megamalai in Theni district. This triggered a series of landslides in Megamalai in which at least 37 people were killed.

Flood marooned north Madurai, where almost all the government departments are located. Water entered the Government Rajaji hospital and telecommunication network was cut off. The worst impact was in Sellur, the hub of world famous handloom industry, where about 12,000 looms fell silent. The industry has not recovered from this mortal blow. Many were forced to leave their homes and a few deaths were reported in Sellur. It took three days for the flood water to recede.

The flood was caused by chocking of storm water carriers. Madurai, once a city of tanks, had 46 water bodies, of which only seven are alive now. Many are in disuse or used to drain sewage. Sixteen tanks have been filled with buildings. Reacting to the flood, the Madurai Corporation implemented a scheme to desilt all storm water canals in 1994. Encroachments in the Vaigai and major canals were removed and people given alternative sites to set up home in Sakkimangalam, far away from Madurai. Later, all streets were provided with storm water drains. After two decades, the Vaigai continues to remain in a state of neglect and water carriers are used to liberally dump urban waste.

After December 1677, the next flood was accompanied by a cyclone on December 18, 1709. According to B.S. Balinga’s report in the Madurai District Gazetteer, most of the tanks breached at that time and “a mighty wave of water surged through the district carrying everything before it.” A “terrific storm” swept Madurai neighbourhood in November 1814, killing 3000 cattle. The Vaigai witnessed “extraordinary freshes” in December 1843. An “unusually high flood” was seen in 1884. The Vaigai overflowed on November 30 and December 1, 1922, when “flood water reached as far as the Meenakshi Temple on the southern side and invaded Goripalayam in the north. Every railway line leaving Madurai was breached and Sholavandan station was under water.” After the opening of the Vaigai dam on January 29, 1959, the river was in spate in 1977 and 1979, when a chopper involved in rescue operation went down.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 12:12:43 PM |

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