Floods paralyse life; massive rescue, relief operations on in four districts in south Tamil Nadu

Stalin meets Modi in New Delhi to request monetary assistance to handle the devastation caused by the floods

Updated - December 19, 2023 08:07 am IST

Published - December 18, 2023 10:18 pm IST - Tirunelveli/Chennai

Rain water stagnating at Omsakthi nagar in Ramanathapuram on December 18, 2023

Rain water stagnating at Omsakthi nagar in Ramanathapuram on December 18, 2023 | Photo Credit: L. Balachandar

Overnight historic rains and flooding paralysed life in the southern districts of Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli, Tenkasi and Kanniyakumari on December 18. A massive rescue and relief operation is on with the help of defence forces to evacuate people from marooned homes in the districts, which have been cut off from the rest of Tamil Nadu.

When asked about the casualties, Chief Secretary Shiv Das Meena told the media that the government was waiting for the water level to recede in heavily inundated areas. Extensive damage to crops on thousands of acres, and properties was reported in the four districts. Hundreds of vehicles were washed away by strong currents. The Thamirabaran river was in spate.

Tamil Nadu rains updates

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin reached New Delhi on Monday night for a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday. He is slated to brief Mr. Modi on the situation in the southern districts and seek monetary assistance to handle the devastation caused by floods there, as well as in Chennai and its surroundings earlier this month.

The Indian Navy and Coast Guard, Army and Air have joined the rescue operations on request by the State government. Boats were used to rescue people from many places.

Train and bus services were suspended in the region and flight services were suspended in the Thoothukudi airport. Over 800 passengers on board the Tiruchendur – Chennai Chendur Express Train were stranded overnight after the train was stopped at Srivaikundam Station at 9 p.m. on Sunday as the railway track between Srivaikundam and Seythunganallur stations had been washed away by the flood for a few kilometres. While a section of the commuters was taken in vans late in the night, around 500 of them — including loco pilot Shaju — for more than 24 hours. Plans were afoot to airdrop food packets to them.

Governor R.N. Ravi has convened an emergency meeting of officers of Defence and Central government departments in Raj Bhavan on Tuesday to discuss contingency plan for flood situation in southern districts.

Unprecedented numbers

Mr. Meena told journalists in Chennai that 17 State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams were working in Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts — the worst affected among the four. More teams would be deployed sooner.

Mr. Meena said though the Regional Meteorological Centre had predicted “extremely heavy rainfall”, which was over 21 cm in some places, the rainfall of more than 40 cm being recorded in many places spread across southern Tamil Nadu was unprecedented. For instance, Kayalpattinam in Thoothukudi district recorded 94.6 cm of rainfall in 24 hours, which is the normal annual rainfall for the place.

According to the Met office, Tiruchendur and Srivaikuntam in Thoothukudi district received 69 cm and 62 cm, respectively. Moolaikaraipatti in Tirunelveli district recorded 61 cm.

The two districts are witnessing their worst-ever floods after the cyclone-triggered deluge in 1992.

Officials said 9,705 persons have been accommodated in relief camps. Electricity supply was cut off in many places and mobile networks were down.

Mr. Meena said the priority was ensuring the supply of food and drinking water to all those stranded. While the Thoothukudi airport could not be used on Monday, he said six aircraft, including five helicopters, will be deployed from early Tuesday morning for aerial supply of food in places that are inaccessible through boats. Trucks with food supply and 100 heavy duty pumps for dewatering were sent from Chennai to Thoothukudi.

State Finance Minister Thangam Thennarasu and a team of senior civil servants who had served in Tirunelveli as District Collectors were monitoring the relief and rescue operations, along with District Collector K.P. Karthikeyan.

Reservoirs full, river in spate

Water was released from several reservoirs following heavy inflow in the catchments of Papanasam Dam, Manimuthar Dam in Tirunelveli and Gadana, and Ramanadhi Dams in Tenkasi. With over 1 lakh cusecs of water flowing in the Tamirabarani river, it posed a serious threat to the residents living near the 122-km-long watercourse from Papanasam to Punnaikaayal in Thoothukudi district.

The swelling Tamirabharani led to water entering the Tirunelveli District Collectorate and the nearby District Science Centre, Office of the Chief Educational Officer and the Circuit House also.

“The northeast winds are doing their usual thing but there is a strong wave pattern coming in from the northwestern tropical Pacific, which is causing a strong convergence over Sri Lanka into Tamil Nadu,” Raghu Murtugudde, a professor at IIT Bombay and an emeritus professor at the University of Maryland, told The Hindu. “These wave patterns are common during the intra-seasonal or active/break periods during the summer monsoon. Details need to be looked at as to the origin of this wave coming from the east.”

“There is a little cyclonic system sitting off of … Jakarta which is interacting with the northeast winds to produce these systems,” he added.

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