Floods in Kerala: a history

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Ancient Kerala: meteors, not floods, devastate Cherânâd

Historian P.V. Mathew has written about Kerala’s ancient links with Kashmir. He has offered strong evidence- but also made startling (and pathbreaking) claims. For instance, he says that ‘Kashmîrî culture reached Keralâ [in the 700s/ eighth century A.D.], which also paved the way for the formation of [the] ‘Malayalam’ language.’

Karnataka had fallen into the lap of Kashmir’s Emperor Lalitaditya (c. AD 725- 753 or 761) without much effort. Apparently Keralâ (then called Cherânâd) had been devastated only a few centuries before by a storm of meteors. These meteors seem to have destroyed the cities- and also the high culture- of Keralâ. So, when Lalitaditya came calling he does not seem to have ‘encountered any king [or] for that matter any cultured people,’ Mathew tells us. He did meet some aboriginal people, though.

No date has been given for this devastation but it would seem to have taken place between the third and fifth or sixth centuries A.D. (between A.D. 200 and 500).

Mathew adds, ‘It is this king who first gets mentioned in the legends of Keralâ as “Parasurâm”, which word might be the shortened form of “Parihaspura” or “Parihasakeshwa”.’ [But Parasuram is also an ancient name in its own right.--Parvez Dewan]

Source: Mathew, PV, Lalitaditya- linking Kashmîr with Keralâ, ‘Shîrâzâ’ (English), Vol. 1, no.2, July- December, 1988, Jammû&Kashmîr Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, Srînagar, Kashmîr.

Indpaedia has tried to search online for more details about this ancient, widespread devastation of what is now Kerala, with no success at all. Additional information may please be sent as messages to the Facebook community, Indpaedia.com. All information used will be gratefully acknowledged in your name.

However, what is clear is that widespread natural disasters have a long history in Kerala.

1258 and Calicut

From (Maddy | Historic Alleys)


The year 1258 was to prove to be of great significance to Calicut. (Maddy | Historic Alleys)


1341. How did this event take place? The north bank of the Cochin River is formed by the island of Vypeen, which is said to have been created in 1341 A.D. by a cyclone or earthquake. It is said that the island was formed by the deposits of silt brought down by the rivers discharging into the backwaters and sea. Elsewhere, it is said that the Periyar river mouth silted destroying the access from the sea and thus finishing off the trade which the port of Muziris conducted with many a country for eons. (Maddy | Historic Alleys)

The Cochin royal family or the Perumbadapu swaroopm moved from Vanneri to Cochin with the support and permission of the Paliyath family, the real landlords of the region. Perhaps they to saw the opportunity of increasing seaborne trade, spilling out of Muziris and now suffering from the recent events. Some accounts even mention that there occurred a severe earthquake along the Kerala coast in 1341 due to which the Vypeen Island was raised above the sea level, and the Cochin bar mouth was formed. What could have been a more supportable fact?

1258: massive tropical volcanic eruption

A massive tropical volcanic eruption shook the world in 1258. January 1258 – One of the largest volcanic eruptions of the Holocene epoch occurred, possibly from a tropical location such as Mount Rinjani, Indonesia, El Chichón, Mexico; or Quilotoa, Ecuador. The Muziris port reportedly silted up as the result of unusual flooding by the Periyar River in 1341 AD. What if the Tsunami of 1258 started the [process] of the silting?? (Maddy | Historic Alleys)

Now we move eastwards to the 1258 Indonesian volcanic eruption suspect. We do know that there is a connection between earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. What if the 1258 eruption followed a massive undersea earthquake in the Pacific Rim? An earthquake which created the eruption could create a bad tsunami as we witnessed recently, the effects of which were felt with some severity on the South Malabar coastline. We know that such massive eruptions, especially near the sea level produce large Tsunamis. The question is if the Rinjani eruption produced a cataclysmic tsunami. Quite doubtful and occurring a hundred years before the recorded facts in Cochin. So let us move to Cochin and discount any effect of the eruption on the formation of Cochin(Maddy | Historic Alleys)

While we see some mention of a massive earthquake off Japan in 1341 we have no real details at hand. Perhaps that caused the tsunami which resulted in the silting events at Muziris and the formation of Vypeen, but then again we can conclude that there was no direct impact of the 1258 volcanic event on Malabar.(Maddy | Historic Alleys)

‘Indian’ adds about the 1258 Volcanic eruption: (Maddy | Historic Alleys)

Thamizh scholar Krishnan Ramasamy postulated that such a tectonic change silted Muziris that also altered the south-Indian plate. It lifted up the Malabar coast and west and submerged some parts of the Coramandel coast. His idea is that what is now known as ram-setu could be an even thicker land-mass, a contiguous land between Rameshwaram and Mannar that got submerged. As well as Poompuhar/Kaveripoompattinam and some land mass east of present day Chennai also got submerged by a major geographical event after 10th century.

1341

Flood, volcanic eruption, earthquake, or storm?

Historians believe that Kochi owes its rise as a prominent port city to the great flood in River Periyar in 1341.

Until that time, Mahodayapuram, with its port of Muziris (now, Kodungallur) was the centre of trade. The flood and the frequent attacks of the Zamorins, the rulers of Malabar, proclaimed the death knell of this trading centre and port city. The traders slowly began to move towards the natural harbor created in the Kochi region as a result of the floods. (Kerala Tourism)

A non-academic account mentions that geographical layout Cochin City as we know it today traces back to the great flood of 1341 CE, caused by a tsunami triggered by a gigantic undersea volcanic eruption (but is not referenced to any source). During this year the river Periyar flooded like never before (or after), and changed its course. The hitherto flourishing port of Cranganore silted up from the mud up-stream. Only that no such recorded volcanic eruption event took place in 1341. Perhaps there was a strong Pacific Rim earthquake.(Maddy | Historic Alleys)

Many a book mentions the great Periyar flood of 1341. WW Hunter is the first to detail the connection between the flood and the Puthu vaippu era. He states ‘The date at which this island was formed by the action of the sea and river, a. d. 1341, is sometimes used in deeds as the commencement of an era styled Puttuveppu (new deposit)’. Others mentioned ‘the floods in the river Periyar in 1341 choked the mouth of the Cranganore harbor and rendered it useless for purposes of trade’. Padmanabha Menon mentions this as an extraordinary flood which opened up an estuary. As you delve into the usual Malabar history sources you see mentions that the 1341 year had record monsoons resulting in the Periyar flood and the silting up of the harbor mouth.(Maddy | Historic Alleys)

The following extract is from Dr. Thomson's paper on the Geology of Bombay (Mad. Lit. Trans.) It bears directly on the subject, and carries us three centuries further back: —" The Island of Vaypi, on the north side of Cochin, rose from out the sea in the year 1341: the date of its appearance is determined by its having given rise to a new era amongst the Hindoos, called Puduvepa, or the new introduction. Contemporaneously with the appearance of Vaypi the waters, which during the rainy season were discharged from the ghaut, broke through the banks of the channel which usually confined them, overwhelmed a village, and formed a lake and harbour so spacious that light ships could anchor where dry land formerly prevailed."—Bartolome's Voyage to the East Indies. Borne 1796 ; Translation 1800.(Maddy | Historic Alleys)


The geographic Survey of India Vol 132 mentions a severe earthquake in 1341 resulting in the floods. Bilhm’s paper on Earthquakes in India mentions thus - A storm near Cochin in 1341 caused an island to emerge, but inspection suggests this to be a common accretional feature of storms along the Malabar Coast (Bendick and Bilham, 1999).(Maddy | Historic Alleys)

Another glaring example is the oft-quoted Malabar Coast earthquake of A.D. 1341. The report by Ballore (1900), one of the earliest studies on seismic phenomenon in British India treats this event as “a severe earthquake” as a consequence of which Vypin ‘Island’, (referred in Newbold’s report as Waypi), was raised above the sea level. Newbold (1846) considers the 1341 catastrophe as a large storm, which brought about remarkable changes in the vicinity of Cochin,including the emergence of the new sand bar known by the name Vypin (see also Bendick and Bilham, 1999, for details),and consequently a new harbour. The critical evaluation of the available data suggests that the 1341 event was not an earthquake but a storm.(Maddy | Historic Alleys)

We have obtained independent evidence of flooding in the Bharathapuzha River basin that occurred sometime between A.D. 1269 and 1396. This probably represents the 1341 flood – a severe event that probably affected many river basins of Kerala.(Maddy | Historic Alleys)

Malabar coastline reshaped

Cyclonic floods of catastrophic proportions in the year 1341 completely reshaped the Malabar coastline. Muziris – or the city that succeeded it, by then called Cranganore – was drowned and the ancient port silted up. It is estimated that the coastline shifted several kilometers. A new opening of the Periyar into the Arabian Sea was opened and a backwater formed by the long stretch of the newly created Vypen Island. (Harper McAlpine Black | 27 February 2016| The Lost City of Muziris )


Muziris disappears; new land mass emerges

Due to [a] great deluge in River Periyar the ancient port town of Muziris in Malabar Coast disappeared suddenly and without a trace. It was presumably because of a cataclysmic event in 1341, in the River Periyar that altered the geography of the region. (Excerpted from Memoirs | Joseph J. Thayamkeril | josephjthayamkeril@gmail.com)

A new land mass accreted suddenly on the western coast from Kodungallur to Alleppy. The flood water breached the land mass, between the present Fort cochin and Vypeen, and opened up the present Cochin Estuary or ‘Kochazy’ and harbour and helped in the formation of Vembanad Backwater. The Islands located on the northern side of Cochin estuary is popularly known as the Vypeen Islands changed access to the River Periyar. (Excerpted from Memoirs | Joseph J. Thayamkeril | josephjthayamkeril@gmail.com)

It was only the most spectacular of the geological changes and land formation that have been going on in that area from time immemorial. A geophysical survey of the region has shown that 200–300 years ago the shoreline lay about three kilometres east of the present coast and that some 2,000 years earlier it lay even further east, about 6.5 km inland and in those days Trippunithura, Kaduthuruthy, Athirampuzha, Kottayam, Changanassery and Edathwa were tiny port towns on that stretch of coastline. If Muziris had been situated somewhere here in Roman times, the coast at that time would have run some 4-5 km east of its present line. The regular silting up of the river mouth finally forced it to cease activity as a port. (Excerpted from Memoirs | Joseph J. Thayamkeril | josephjthayamkeril@gmail.com)

Vypeen/ Vaippu: A new island and era emerge

The formation of the Cochin harbor, the island of Vypeen and what is called the Puthu Vaippu era. Vypeen (the Portuguese form of Vaippu) itself lying between Cochin and Kodungallur (Cranganore) is sixteen miles in length, three miles broad and was known as Puthu Vaippu. The various geographical changes which affected Cochin, Vypeen and Cranganore were apparently commemorated by what is called the Puthu Vaippu Era. Vypeen, also known as Puthu Vaippu (Puthu Vaipu, i.e. new formation or new deposit) and the people there commence an era from the date of its formation A.D. 1341. This phenomenon was responsible for opening a new harbor which is what we know as today's Kochi (Cochin) harbor loosely meaning Kochazhi or ‘small harbor’ (Kochangadi of the Jews is the place where the Jews first resided - clarified by Thoufeek). As events played out, this new harbor would soon outdo Calicut, but it would take all of 500 plus years and the support of many a foreign nation, notable the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English, not to mention the internal rivalries between the Zamorin and the Cochin king which as we saw, these nation cleverly manipulated for their own good.(Maddy | Historic Alleys)


VKR Menon (History of medieval Kerala) is a person who studied the Putu vaipu Era and wrote about it. He believes that the start of an era in 1341 has nothing to do with the purported overnight formation of an island, but is related to the founding of the Vijayanagar dynasty instead. He concludes that in 1341, the Cochin raja entered into a treaty with Harihara of Vijayanagar (to keep away the Tughlaqs) and in order to pay the tribute imposed taxes for this purpose on his subjects, all for the first time in 1341. Therefore Pudu Viapu means ‘New foundation’, supporting this theory. What this alludes to is that the island was formed over time, that the silting occurred over time, and that the cause is not necessarily one severe event in 1341. He also makes it clear that such a disastrous calamity was never explicitly mentioned in temple records, or by Ibn Batuta or Feristah and so did not possibly occur.(Maddy | Historic Alleys)


The historical River Poorna became Padinjare Puzha?

In Tripunithura, the Padinjare Puzha (the western river), which has played no mean role in the history of the town, is gasping for breath with overgrown weeds and pollution choking the vital water body.

The late M. Raman Namboothiri of the Archaeological Survey of India, who was an expert in the history and heritage of Tripunithura, in one of his writings, has stated that the Padinjare Puzha is actually the historical Poorna river. His work titled “Poornayude Puravrutham” explores the origin, the course and the flow of the Periyar’s tributary till the great flood of 1341. The flood changed the course of many rivulets.Raman Namboothiri has described how the eastern jetty of the Poorna, right at the back of Sri Poornathrayeesa Temple, played the role of an important trading link for Tripunithura. (Historic Padinjare Puzha gasps for breath | OCTOBER 21, 2013 | The Hindu)

Salt manufacturing business destroyed

During the early days low lying areas at Kumbalam were ‘Uppalam,’ lands used for manufacturing salt from brine.

Those properties are situated near the house of Ousepachan Ameparampil and Ouseph Kalassery. It was one of the sources of our ancestral income. During the unprecedented deluge in 1341, a new delta namely Kumbalangi, which meant a curtain or shutter to Kumbalam, was formed and its position is further west of Aroor and Edakochi. There are some other islands beyond Kumbalanghi Island namely Kannamaly, Chellanam, Kandakadvu and Kannamaly belt blocked the brine that used to come directly from the Arabian Sea through the water-pass between the Aroor-Edacochi sand-bund, which was popping in and out in backwaters. That event put an end to our ancestral salt manufacturing business. (Excerpted from Memoirs | Joseph J. Thayamkeril | josephjthayamkeril@gmail.com)

After the deluge of 1341, lots of sand was deposited in wet lands at Panangad and Cheppanam Islands in Kumbalam Village. Gradually, a few of the Illoms/Manas at Kumbalam and some of their close Nair Madambis too shifted their residence to such large drained lands at Panangad. Puthuva Illom/Mana suffered great losses due to the floods at Alangad area and they shifted their residence from Alangad near Aluva and settled at Kumbalam south area. (Excerpted from Memoirs | Joseph J. Thayamkeril | josephjthayamkeril@gmail.com)

1924: The great flood of ’99/ Thonnoottompathile [99le] Vellappokkam

The flood of 1099 ME (Malayalam Era).

The authors of this section incude Ranjith Kannankattil, Able Lawrence, Narayanan Unni

The damage

The Great flood of July 1924, or the popularly known flood of 99, which occurred in 1099 ME (Malayalam Era), when Rivers Periyar, Meenachil, Pampa, Muvattupuzha and others originating from Sahyadri Mountains and hills flooded in Kerala state, South India. The rain continued for about three weeks. Many districts of the present day Kerala were deeply submerged in water by this flood – From Trichur to Ernakulam; from Idukki to Kottayam and even up to Alappuzha including Kuttanad region. Even a huge mountain called Karinthiri Malai was washed away by this flood and the road to Munnar also vanished along with it. As the road to Munnar was lost by this flood, a new road from Ernakulam to Munnar became necessary. The present day road from Ernakulam to Munnar was constructed after this event. (Excerpted from Memoirs | Joseph J. Thayamkeril | josephjthayamkeril@gmail.com)

The devastating flood claimed thousands of lives, animals and birds, and caused severe damages to buildings, roads and other structures, and heavy damages to crops in Kerala. Most of the areas in the erstwhile Travancore and Cochin states and parts of Malabar region were submerged under the flood water. In Munnar around 485 cm of rain fall was reported during the flood and wide spread destruction occurred. Kundala Valley Railway, one of the first narrow gauge railway lines constructed at Munnar was completely destroyed by the flood waters. This flood is still a fearful memory with the old generation still alive in Kerala and most of them were kids then. Also, as a historical touch of this flood, the church-records in most ancient churches were also damaged by this flood. So, in almost all ancient churches, the church records start only from 1924 AD. (Excerpted from Memoirs | Joseph J. Thayamkeril | josephjthayamkeril@gmail.com)

Were the floods the result of a dam breach or heavy rains?

Some people in Kerala believe that the cause of this great flood was a major breach of the Mullaperiyar Dam. That is why the flood was so powerful, even at Munnar, and tore apart even a mountain as big as Karinthiri. The breach of Mullaperiyar occurred 29 years after the dam was constructed. They argue that at that time there was no other dam in the region and there is no other possible reason that can be attributed for such a destructive flood. (Excerpted from Memoirs | Joseph J. Thayamkeril | josephjthayamkeril@gmail.com)

However, C Ramaswamy’s 1985 book “Review of floods in India for past 75 years” indicates that there were ‘Catastrophic Floods in the Cauvery and Severe Floods in the Rivers in Kerala and Coastal Karnataka in July 1924’ and ‘Catastrophic Floods in the Upper Ganga and the Yamuna in October 1924’

Thus, the Catastrophic Floods of 1924 were not confined to Kerala, or even in just South India.

Natural dams got formed; when they collapsed they caused huge damage

Therefore, the [man-made] dam breach theory does not seem valid. A dam does seem to have burst on some tributary of the Periyar. But it was probably a dam formed due to mudslides as there were not many dams at that time.

It is said that in that July during the monsoons, the rains didn't stop for 3 weeks and that as time passed many trees , rocks and other things blocked the way and created a ‘bund’ between two hills at Mattupetty which broke when the rains continued. The same is supposed to have happened with the natural reservoir formed at Pallivasal.

These huge water flows accompanied by landslides destroyed the surrounding towns and submerged hills and places like Munnar lying at 6000 ft above sea level. It also geographically reshaped some places and therefore the effects are visible even today. This water flow is speculated to have also caused the breach in the man made reservoir as well submerging areas even very far from the place.

Incessant rain

Three floods occurred during the month of July 1924 across much of south India.

The rainfall and wind data gathered by Mr. C Ramaswamy indicates that there was heavy rainfall with an increased windspeed during the last week of July.


The reasons for the heavy rainfall and, thereby, floods are attributed to

Offshore vortices along the west cost

Mesoscale factors in the lower layer of atmosphere in the hilly area

Perturbations in the higher layer of troposphere in the form of waves in the easterlies

Movement of high level easterly jet maxima.


Chellanam is at the southern tip of Ernakulam along the coast. Its elders always [used to] estimate time relative the great flood of 99. Chellanam had seen considerable sea erosion and has lost kilometers width of land to the sea and the current land was built by the flood of 99 (which is said to have changed the complete layout of land turning land into water and water into land). This is very remarkable since the 2018 floodwaters in Periyar did not reach Chellanam as it is separated by several backwaters that can buffer and divert the deluge before it reaches there.

How big was the flood? July 1924 received 3,000 mm of rain while the 2018 monsoon deposited 3000 mm rain in May - 2nd week of August. The additional factor in 2018 was the overflowing dams that shifted the flood waters.

Area of impact

It seems that the fury of the floods was felt in today’s central Kerala as rivers like Periyar, Muvattupuzhayar, Meenachilaar, etc. flooded.

All available accounts point to the floods being the result of heavy rains. It affected several of the rivers. Elders speak about the floods in Thodupuzha river (a tributary of Muvattupuzhayar).

The great flood of 1924’s impact on the people’s mind

The 1924 floods have a prominent place in history and literature and are often mentioned to serve as a comparison. Thakazhi and Keshavadev have depicted the flood in their novels.


There are newspaper photographs (online) of buildings extant in 2017, which had the level of the water during the great flood marked on their walls. (The level often stands at 12 feet from the ground. implying water rose to such a level in those areas).

There are legends about numerous buildings (eg : old schools) built from the timber which was obtained from the great flood in 1924. On many occasions the buildings which were destroyed were also rebuilt from the timber obtained from the floods.

Munnar hill and railway line submerged

The Munnar railway line was destroyed during the flood. Even in the early 21st century it was a wonder how the British engineers built a railway track till Munnar. It is almost unimaginable that once upon a time there was a train to Munnar, which is a hill station. That railway was never rebuilt Perhaps it is not easy or financially viable today.

Conversion of many SCs (Pulayas) to Christianity

Yet another significant episode was the conversion of Scheduled Castes (Pulayas) of Kumbalam Islands to Christian faith during the deluge of August 1924. The floods lasted for about two weeks. Kuttanad and Alleppy in erstwhile Travancore, and deltan regions of Kochi lay submerged for days in the water that was gushing in, nature’s fury with a vengeance. When the Islands in Kumbalam Village were submerged, the Scheduled Caste families suffered the most; rain water flooded their dilapidated huts. Fr. Joseph Painumkal, a Syrian Catholic priest, took the initiative and provided them with food, clothes and shelter in the church buildings. They were engaged for casual labour. Lured by this some of them were converted into Christian faith. (Excerpted from Memoirs | Joseph J. Thayamkeril | josephjthayamkeril@gmail.com)

Benefits of floods

However, floods can also bring many benefits, such as recharging ground water, making soil more fertile and increasing nutrients in some soils. Flood waters kills pests in the farming land. Flooding can spread nutrients to lakes and rivers, which can lead to increased biomass and improved fisheries for a few years. (Excerpted from Memoirs | Joseph J. Thayamkeril | josephjthayamkeril@gmail.com)

2004, Dec: Tsunami

1341 created Sattar Island; 2004 devastated it

(K.S. Sudhi | An island reeling under tsunami impact | 2005/02/14| The Hindu)

Sattar Island is all dried up. The recent tsunami attack has changed the face of life on this 150-acre island in River Periyar forever.

The geographical features of the island make it one of the most vulnerable spots for natural calamities. It is located at the mouth of Periyar where the river meets the Arabian Sea. If the proximity of the island, which is the northern border Ernakulam district, to the sea was a blessing for the fishermen there, the same factor wreaked havoc in their life during the tsunami onslaught.

From the doorstep of the only chapel on the island, one can see fishing boats operating in the sea and also the Azhikode area of Thrissur district. The powerful tsunami waves from the sea transferred its energy to Periyar with brute force. The river ran across the island, which is believed to have been formed in the great flood and earthquake of 1341 AD.

There was no loss of life as the islanders crossed the 1.5-metre-wide bridge to the mainland before the waves inundated their homes (incidentally, the only road to the island is a mud track motorable by three-wheelers alone). But on return from the relief camps, hey found damaged houses and fishing boats, destroyed banana plantations and small crop of pepper gone to seed.

In one swift stroke, tsunami ended all their means of livelihood.

The 110-odd families were forced to stay in relief camps for five days. There, they heard politicians and administrators waxing eloquent on relief and rehabilitation measures.

The damage caused by the tsunami was not restricted to buildings and other structures on the island which is marked by plethora of narrow water bodies and rivulets criss-crossing the region.

Almost all ponds were filled with saline water and stretches of green grass, which supported the cattle growers, dried up.

2017

Thiruvananthapuram

Flooded road in Thiruvananthapuram
India Today

P S Gopikrishnan Unnithan | Two hours of rain floods Thiruvananthapuram, Met dept predicts heavy showers in next 24 hours | September 7, 2017 | India Today


An unprecedented spell of monsoon literally flooded Thiruvananthapuram.

In 2 hours, the city received 3 cm's of rain.

Flooded road i Thiruvananthapuram

An unprecedented spell of monsoon literally flooded Kerala's capital city, Thiruvananthapuram. The city which has experienced dry climate for the last couple of days woke up to a shady Thursday morning. With rain clouds looming in at the city, it started to rain at around 10.30am. In the next 2 hours, 3 cm's of rain poured down.

This brief spell was more than enough to sink most of the low-lying area's in the capital town. Major roads and junctions flooded with muddy water as the drainage systems failed.

With major roads flooded, the city also went down to a complete halt. Due to heavy rain in the capital, a SpiceJet flight from Delhi to Trivandrum was diverted to Madurai.

As the rain stopped by 12.30pm, water receded from most of the areas. However, the situation was nothing close to normal in Thampanoor, the transporting hub of the capital. With central bus station and railway station situated on the either side of the road, thousands were left stranded.

Most of the link roads which connects the area to other parts of the city were flooded. People could barely walk in the waist-high slimy waters. Some adventurous drivers had fun manoeuvring their vehicles in the water.

IMD Director S Sudhevan told India Today that, "It's just a localised thunderstorm and the clouds have moved further north after the brief spell of rain. "

The floods of 2018

Causes

Rapid release of dam water?

A 25-ft statue of Lord Jesus Christ that depicts him walking on water, in Chengannur, Alappuzha district of Kerala
Photography: Rakesh Nair
From The Times of India, 20 August, 2018.

Pradeep Thakur, ‘Gradual release of dam water could have contained crisis’, August 17, 2018: The Times of India


Centre To Send 35 More NDRF Teams

The Kerala crisis could have been contained had the state “gradually released” waters from at least 30 dams, officials here said, adding that the local authorities failed to foresee the imminent danger with high rain predictions.

“Such floods have probably recurred after 100 years, exposing the state’s unprofessionally-run reservoir management system and unpreparedness on disaster mitigation and disaster resilience,” an official pointed out.

Kerala has also not taken many of the steps for disaster risk reduction as per the National Disaster Management policy. This despite the fact that the state was ranked in a recent survey among 10 states most vulnerable to flood hazards.

At a meeting of the National Crisis Management Committee here on Thursday, the Centre decided to dispatch an additional 35 teams of the National Disaster Response Force, each comprising 40-45 personnel, taking the total to 53. The meeting was chaired by the cabinet secretary and attended by the chiefs of Army, Air Force, Navy and secretaries of defence, home and water resources.

The deployment of more manpower and equipment is part of the Centre’s efforts to scale up the rescue and relief operations. Despite the fact that Kerala is an exception among 30 states and Union Territories to have raised at least one battalion (1,100 personnel) of State Disaster Response Force, continuous rains are making rescue work difficult.

Kerala is also a laggard among states surveyed by the Centre on risk governance. These states have been assessed on the progress made in setting up institutional mechanisms for risk resilience. Every state is to set up its state and disaster management authority, as mandated by the Disaster Management Act.

In 1 week, more than 3.5 times the normal rainfall

Amit Bhattacharya, In 1 week, Kerala got more than 3.5 times its normal rainfall, August 18, 2018: The Times of India


The numbers say it all. In one week (August 8-15), Kerala received more than 3.5 times its normal rainfall. Then, on August 16, the state was pounded with 137mm of rain, more than 10 times the normal for the day. There was hardly any let up on Friday either, with the state getting more than five times its normal rain.

While the Met department records show 2.7 times higher rainfall in Kerala in August so far, the severe weather really began on August 8. It has been unrelenting since then. The cumulative effect of the last nine days’ rainfall has left the state battered, leading to floods that are being described as possibly the worst in a century.

What caused the deluge are weather conditions that developed far away from the state — on India’s east coast. “Two low pressure systems formed on the Bay of Bengal, close to Odisha. The first one developed on August 7, and the second, which went on to become a depression, happened on August 13,” said M Mohapatra, head of services at India Meteorological Department. Low pressure systems over Bay of Bengal, a normal occurrence during this season, attract winds from the high pressure regions over south Indian Ocean. From exactly where the winds are sucked in depends on the strength and position of low pressure systems. “The location of both systems was such that high-speed monsoon winds rushed into Kerala and hit the Western Ghats, causing heavy rains in the region,” Mohapatra said.

Just how much rain the systems brought in can be gauged from districtwise statistics. The rainfall in six out of the state’s 14 districts was more than 10 times the normal on Thursday. That day, Idukki, one of the worst-hit districts, was battered with 266mm of rain, more than 13 times the normal for the day.

To put that in perspective, if Thursday’s rain over just 1sq km area was to be poured over a football field, it would create a pool nearly 10 storeys (38 metres) high. “The impact of the low-pressure systems is now wearing off. Rainfall over Kerala should decrease tomorrow, although so- me areas are still likely to get heavy showers. By Saturday, there is likely to be a further decrease in rain activity,” Mohapatra said.

 In just 20 days, Kerala got highest Aug rains in 87 years

Neha Madaan, In just 20 days, Kerala gets highest Aug rains in 87 yrs, August 21, 2018: The Times of India

A Kochi family wrote ‘THANKS’ on their rooftop after a Navy helicopter airlifted two women from the same place three days ago. Piloted by commander Vijay Varma, the copter had also airlifted a woman in labour & rushed her to a Navy hospital, where she delivered a baby
From: Neha Madaan, In just 20 days, Kerala gets highest Aug rains in 87 yrs, August 21, 2018: The Times of India

Idukki District Sees 111-Yr Rain Record Broken

In just the first 20 days of August, Kerala has received the highest rainfall for the entire month in 87 years, India Meteorological Department data reveals.

The state has got 771mm rainfall from August 1 to 20 this year. This the highest for the month since 1931, when Kerala had witnessed its wettest month of August on record with 1,132mm of rain, said Pulak Guhathakurta, head of the climate data management and services, IMD.

August rainfall in the state so far has been 2.5 times the normal for the period, with Idukki district breaking a 111-year record for highest rainfall in the month.

The worst flood-affected district in the state, Idukki has been pounded with 1,419mm rain in August so far. The previous highest was 1,387mm recorded way back in 1907.


Decreasing rainfall & then deluge: Kerala’s surprise

Met officials said the deluge caught Kerala unprepared, particularly because it has been progressively getting less monsoon rain over the years. “Monsoon rain in Kerala has been showing a decreasing trend from 1875 to 2017. Except for 2013, 2014 and 2018, the last decade has shown negative rainfall departures. This is why the state did not expect rain of this magnitude,” IMD’s Pulak Guhathakurta said.

Idukki had four continuous days of heavy to extremely heavy rain followed by one day of 25.4mm rain and then six continuous days of heavy to extremely heavy showers in August. “From August 1- 20, the station received around 70-110mm of heavy rain in five days, close to 120- 200mm of very heavy rain for three days and extremely heavy rain (over 200mm) on two days,” Guhathakurta said.

The Peermade station in Idukki broke over 100 years of records for 24-hour rainfall. It reported three very heavy and three extremely heavy rain spells in August. There were a few days in August where all the stations reported more than 100mm rainfall in the district.

Contribution of human errors

Viju B, August 20, 2018: The Times of India

The Zones classification as per the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP)
From: Viju B, August 20, 2018: The Times of India
Ecologically Sensitive Zone- Classification-
Zone 1- Some major characteristics;
Zone 2- Some major characteristics;
Zone 3- Some major characteristics
From: Viju B, August 20, 2018: The Times of India
Western Ghats- What are Western Ghats?;
Views of Mr. Madhav Gadgil, architect of Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel and
Views of Mr. VS Vijayan, Member, Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel
From: Viju B, August 20, 2018: The Times of India


Analysis of areas that suffered maximum damage show that they were all classified as ecologically-sensitive zones

The report was binned by UDF and LDF governments, with Idukki and Thamarassery bishops throwing their weight behind parties

The maximum damage inflicted by monsoon in the past ten days were in Wayanad and Idukki


Crisis arose due to destruction of ecologically-sensitive zones in Western Ghats

  • A river decided to change its course on August 8 and snaked into human habitat at Kannappankundu in Puthuppady panchayat in Kozhikode
  • 200 people were shifted to relief camps in Thamarassery taluk after landslips occurred on August 9
  • At Pallivasal near Munnar, 22 foreigners were trapped at Palm Judy resort following a landslide on August 10
  • Landslides near Vythiri bus station and the Ninth hairpin curve on Thamarassery Ghat Road disrupted traffic on August 9


A geographical analysis of areas that suffered maximum damage this monsoon show that they were all classified as ecologically-sensitive zones (ESZs) under the Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel report (WGEEP).

The report was binned by both UDF and LDF governments, with both Idukki and Thamarassery bishops throwing their weight behind the political parties. The UDF government even passed a resolution in the assembly rejecting the report saying that it went against public interest.

The maximum damage inflicted by monsoon in the past ten days were in Wayanad and Idukki. Areas like Munnar, Thamarassery, Vythiri and Thiruvambady were classified under ESZ as per the WGEEP report.

Kerala has 15 taluks under zone-I, two in zone-II and eight within Zone-III. Idukki districts topped the zone-I list and yet maximum illegal buildings came up here. Wayanad followed the ‘Munnar model’ and nature hit back with a vengeance. People don’t understand that WGEEP report is not against development as claimed by Kerala Congress politicians and church authorities. The report allows sustainable development in zone-II and zone-III.

The report said that since zone-I is core forest area, which lies close to Western Ghats, there is a ban on land use for non-forest purpose or agricultural activity. However, it allowed extension of village settlements to accommodate increase in population. It also allowed road and public infra expansion with MoEF nod. Wayanad and Idukki have maximum taluks in zone-I.

Zone-II was allowed to renovate and extend existing structures such as hotels and resorts. Zone-III was allowed use of land for non-agri purpose. Permission for activity was to be given only after considering various socio-economic parameters of the area. “It is important to understand that we need to preserve the buffer zones around the forests in Western Ghats or the region will fall like a pack of cards. If we don’t protect the region, landslides and flash floods will follow claiming livelihood and lives,” said Madhav Gadgil who headed the WGEEP panel.

Quarrying is another major issue in both these districts. There are 1,700 illegal granitecrushing units in Kerala.

Environmentalists said instead of making more stringent regulations to mitigate the impact of climate change, irregular rainfall and cloud bursts, the state relaxed quarrying rules. It allowed quarrying within 50m of residential localities. “It is an irony that we announce compensation for property damage after landslides when we could have mitigated these impacts and saved an ancient ecosystem that is the principal source of drinking water for Kerala,” said former chairman of state biodiversity board V S Vijayan, who was also a member of WGEEP panel.

’Kerala dams were full even before rains’

Vishwa Mohan, Kerala dams were full up even before rains: Study, September 10, 2018: The Times of India

Storage capacity of reservoirs and water received as cumulative runoff in 3 days- August 15- 17, 2018;
How much it rained- June- August 19, 2018;
All dams, except Idukki, were already at 'full reservoir level' on August 14, 2018
From: Vishwa Mohan, Kerala dams were full up even before rains: Study, September 10, 2018: The Times of India

On the eve of torrential rains that caused widespread flooding in Kerala, the state’s major dams, barring Idukki, were already full to capacity leaving little scope of containing cumulative runoff totalling more than 200% of the storage capacity of all big and small reservoirs in the state.

The finding is part of a detailed study on Kerala floods carried out by the Central Water Commission. It submitted its report to the water resources ministry last week.

Kerala received 12 billion cubic metre (BCM) of water in three days of exceptionally high rainfall during August 15-17, more than double the capacity of all reservoirs

(5.8 BCM) in the state, presenting an impossible scenario as waters began to rise in several districts leading to mass evacuation.

‘Kerala dams didn’t release extra water’

In view of the state’s experience, the report recommended revisiting the ‘rule curves’ — strategic water level for planning operations of a dam — of all reservoirs. The report said the dams neither added to the flood nor helped in reducing the flow. It said “above normal” rainfall in June and July and exceptionally high rainfall in August left the state helpless despite following standard operating procedures on reservoirs. The report will be submitted to the Kerala government on Monday.

“The dams did not release anything extra of what they received. The authorities had released water in a very controlled manner. The commission has come to the conclusion after computing and analysing step by step inflow and outflow of water during the entire season,” CWC director (hydrology) N N Rai said.

He told TOI on Sunday that the report would recommend “revisiting rule curves of all reservoirs” in view of shrinking of their water carrying capacity over the years.

A rule curve specifies storage or empty space to be maintained in a reservoir during different times of the year.

“The rule curve as such does not give the amount of water to be released from the reservoir. This amount will depend on inflow to the reservoir, or sometimes it is specified in addition to rule curves,” said Sharad Jain, director of National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee. Rule curves are derived by studying the historical data.

Though it helps in maintaining water levels, certain reports suggested that a tendency to keep back water for leaner seasons may have led to high reservoir levels.

Poor implementation of the ‘package’ hurt Kuttanad

Jeemon Jacob| Man-made disaster | August 4, 2018 | India Today

This article was published when the floods of 2018 were still a routine trickle, well before the catastrophic proportions that they would assume two weeks or so later.


Udayakumar Paramankulam and his family were forced to flee their home in Kainakary village after floods hit Kuttanad in mid-July. Like them, nearly 45,000 villagers of Alappuzha district were moved to 203 relief camps, while they waited for the waters to recede from their flooded homes and paddy farms.

Floods are not unusual in Kuttanad. But as Udayakumar, 50, says, "normally the water recedes after it stops raining. This time, it's a deluge even after days of sunshine." Their home, like thousands of others, remains submerged. And adding to their miseries is the looming threat of disease from the stagnant waters.

Known as the 'Rice Bowl of Kerala', Kuttanad comprises a 900 sq km delta region that was reclaimed from the sea some 150 years ago. It is a unique ecosystem of freshwater lakes and canals amid vast swathes of rice paddies, 1.2 to 2 metres below sea level.

Paddy farmer Anirudhan Velayudhan, 77, blames the government for Kuttanad's woes. He says the floods have come to stay because of the shoddy implementation of the Rs 1,840 crore Kuttanad Package, designed by M.S. Swaminathan (a native of Kuttanad) in September 2010. Velayudhan says most of the package was misappropriated to benefit rich landlords and the land mafia.

Meant for preventing the degradation of the aquatic ecosystem through flood control and development of agriculture and fisheries as well as water supply and sanitation schemes in the villages, the package was scrapped in 2013. Much of the work to deepen and widen the canals to ensure a free flow of flood waters remained incomplete.

Former CPI(M) legislator C.K. Sadasivan says it was an 'ill-conceived' package that now spells doom for Kuttanad. According to him, high tides in the Arabian Sea are blocking the outflow of floodwaters from Kuttanad. But the situation is really compounded by an extensive construction of roads, which has altered the natural flow of water in the area.

The Kuttanad package was meant to cover 1,439 paddy fields across 104 villages in the Kottayam, Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha districts. However, detailed project reports (DPRs) were prepared for just 254 paddy fields, and work was partially implemented only in 48.

K.G. Padmakumar, director of the International Research and Training Centre for Below Sea-Level Farming at Thottapally, agrees that the flooding is a consequence of the shoddy implementation of the package. Warning that Kuttanad's unique ecology may be in danger, the scientist recommends corrective measures, including bio fencing and the construction of temporary bunds.

In the wake of the calamitous flood, Kerala's Left Front government is now considering the completion of unfinished projects envisaged in the Kuttanad package.

Damage

Till mid- August

Damage to crop, property in Kerala floods pegged at ₹8,000 crore so far, August 17, 2018: The Times of India

The floods in Kerala are estimated to have damaged crops and properties worth over Rs 8,000 crore even as a fresh red alert was sounded in 13 of the 14 districts in the state. All nine flood-monitoring stations of the Central Water Commission have notified ‘extreme flood situation’.

NGOs have joined 52 teams of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and NDRF in relief and rescue operations in flood-ravaged Kerala but it became evident on Thursday that the scale of the disaster was greater than the current efforts to cope with it.

Pathanamthitta district continued to remain the worst-affected with thousands of people stranded at their homes in Ranni, Aranmula and Kozhencherry towns. Water levels in several parts of Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts rose to as high as 20 feet, turning streets into deep lakes. CM Pinarayi Vijayan spoke to PM Modi and other central leaders again on Thursday to request more help.

Landslides were reported in Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Idukki districts. Munnar remained submerged for the third day while the Sabarimala shrine was cut off.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court directed Mullaperiyar dam authorities to chalk out contingency plan to meet any crisis due to release of water and also consider reducing the water level to 139 feet from the present 142 feet. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Indu Malhotra asked Tamil Nadu and Kerala to work harmoniously to get over the problem. Earlier, advocate Manoj George had contended release of water from the dam “at the whims and fancies of Tamil Nadu for extraneous reasons” is a threat to the life of people living downstream.

September 2018: Drying up rivers and wells

Rivers, wells dry up in flood-hit Kerala, govt orders study, September 12, 2018: The Times of India


With mercury levels rising and abnormal drying up of rivers and wells reported in flood-hit Kerala, the state government has decided to conduct scientific studies on the post-flood phenomenon in the state.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has directed the State Council for Science, Technology & Environment to carry out studies on the phenomenon after floods across the state and suggest possible solutions to the problems.

A series of issues including soaring mercury level, unprecedented dip in water level of rivers, sudden drying-up of wells, depletion of groundwater reserves and mass perishing of earthworms have caused widespread concern in various parts of Kerala after the devastating deluge last month.

The flood-battered Wayanand district, known for its rich biodiversity, recently witnessed the mass perishing of earthworms, causing concern among farmers who attributed it to the rapid drying up of earth and change in soil structure.

Many rivers including Periyar, Bharathapuzha, Pampa and Kabani, which were in a spate during the days of flood, are now getting dried up and their water level has decreased abnormally.

Besides the drying up of wells, their caving in was also reported in many districts.

The flood had altered the topography of the land in many places and km-long cracks had been developed especially in high range areas of Idukki and Wayanad which had witnessed a large number of landslides.

After floods, drought condition was also predicted by experts in many districts of the southern state.

"The Centre for Water Resources Management has been assigned the task of studying fall in water levels, changes in groundwater and land cracks," Vijayan, who is under treatment in US, said in a Facebook post. Download The Times of India News App for Latest City News.

Details: Wells, streams dry up in Kerala

Sudha Nambudiri, After the deluge, dry wells & streams in Kerala, September 16, 2018: The Times of India


MOUNTAINS OF SEDIMENT, CHANGE IN DEPTH OF RIVER BEDS MAKE WATER TABLE GO DOWN

When the flood waters receded, Kerala had changed in more ways than the eye could see at first. Displaced people, wrecked houses and flattened plantations were obvious, but nobody thought water would become scarce in parts of the state just weeks later.

The rains abated on August 21, and since then streams have reduced to a trickle. More alarming is the fall in the water table at some places. The flood should have recharged groundwater, but many wells have run dry, and even collapsed.

It’s happening because the flood — Kerala’s worst in a century — moved mountains of sediment and riverbed soil, changing the balance between surface and groundwater, say geologists and water resources experts.

“Surface soil plays an important role in seepage of rainwater to the ground. Heavy flooding might have washed away the upper sandy soil into the sea,” said P Nandakumaran, a member of Central Ground Water Board in Delhi.

While the flood deposited tonnes of silt on riverbanks, gushing waters made rivers deeper by carrying away sand from their beds. After the flood, the rivers settled at a lower level than before, so the water in the wells around them also went down. Where groundwater is at a higher level, it is flowing back into the rivers, and thence to the sea.

Such changes have been reported from Chaliyar in Kozhikode and several other places, especially Bharathappuzha, said Dinesan VP, who heads the geomatics division of Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM).

Dinesan said it’s normal for rivers to have less water after the monsoon, “but changes in land use and disturbance of the natural environment have led to more visible damage this year.”

Environmentalists had cautioned against these changes almost a decade ago. A natural hazard zone map of Kerala drawn in 2009 showed that rapid urbanisation, environmental degradation and climate change were increasing the state’s vulnerability to floods. Forests, wetlands and paddy fields play an important role in retaining rainwater, but Kerala’s forest cover has halved and the area under paddy has shrunk to a quarter.

While half of Alappuzha is now considered floodprone, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Malappuram and Kottayam are vulnerable districts. In spite of Wayanad’s elevation, its bottom valleys and floodplains are vulnerable. Ironically, Idukki, the centre of this year’s flood, is considered the least flood-prone because of its rugged topography and absence of flat-bottom valleys.

The state government has asked Kerala State Council for Science, Technology & Environment (KSCSTEC) to study the changes in water resources, and suggest ways to fix them.

The flood deposited tonnes of silt on the banks while gushing waters made rivers deeper. Rivers settled at a lower level after the flood, and water in nearby wells went down. Where groundwater is at a higher level, it is flowing back into the rivers, and thence to the sea

Preliminary report: Rs 19,512 crore loss

Rajiv G, Kerala floods: State government's preliminary report pegs losses at Rs 19,512 crore, August 28, 2018: The Times of India


The preliminary report of the Kerala government on the total loss occurred in the recent floods in the state has been pegged at Rs 19,512 crore. The final report will be submitted to the Centre by end of this week. The state had earlier sought Rs 2000 crore as immediate assistance from the prime minister during his visit to the state, but the Centre had given only Rs 600 crore.

The compilation of the total loss submitted by each of the departments is in final phase and the chief secretary’s office is preparing the report to be submitted to the Centre. The public works department has been the biggest casualty in the floods with their loss alone estimated around Rs 5700 crore.

The PWD has mentioned in the report that in Idukki alone, they have incurred losses to the tune of Rs 300 crore from damaged roads. In addition, the PWD has also suffered huge loss in terms of the damages caused to the government buildings.

The tourism sector is learnt to have pegged their loss at Rs 500 crore, out of which the government has suffered loss upto Rs 100 crore. The private sector has been the biggest casualty in the tourism sector. The power department has reported a loss to the tune of Rs 400 crore. The health sector has reported a loss to the tune of Rs 40 crore in terms of equipment and damages to buildings.

However, the health department has made it clear in their report that there will be a hundred percent increase in the demand for drugs and for which an additional Rs 150 crore will have to be sourced. "More than the damages caused to the hospital buildings and equipment, the huge demand for drugs now is what is going to cost us more,’’ said additional chief secretary Rajeev Sadanandan.

The Centre has already informed the state government that more funds from the Centre can be sanctioned only after the state submits its final report on the total damages occurred. The Centre has at present sanctioned Rs 600 crore as immediate assistance. Modi has promised Governor P Sathasivam that more funds will be allotted once the Centre gets the final report.

Rescue efforts

4,500 fishermen in 700 boats rescued 65,000 in 3 days

Aswin J Kumar and Sajeev Kumarapuram, January 11, 2019: The Times of India

Rescue efforts for Kerala floods, 2018, district-wise
From: Aswin J Kumar and Sajeev Kumarapuram, January 11, 2019: The Times of India
Different types of boats used in rescue efforts for floods in Kerala, 2018
From: Aswin J Kumar and Sajeev Kumarapuram, January 11, 2019: The Times of India
How the crew rescued individuals in the floods in Kerala, 2018- the procedure
From: Aswin J Kumar and Sajeev Kumarapuram, January 11, 2019: The Times of India
Why airlifting was not an option during rescue efforts in floods in Kerala, 2018
From: Aswin J Kumar and Sajeev Kumarapuram, January 11, 2019: The Times of India
Why boat rescue worked and how- during floods in Kerala, 2018
From: Aswin J Kumar and Sajeev Kumarapuram, January 11, 2019: The Times of India
The damage done during floods in Kerala, 2018
From: Aswin J Kumar and Sajeev Kumarapuram, January 11, 2019: The Times of India


Mid-August every year, the serene backwaters of southern Kerala turn into a battlefield. The frantic, fiercely-fought paddle boat races attract hundreds of locals and tourists scrambling for the best vantage point. With the precision of an army drill, the oarsmen thrash through the water, their arms rising, flexing and swaying to the rhythm of vanchipattu, the peppy boat song. The year 2018 was no different, but this time there wasn't a single spectator to cheer. And the only music was of the rain pounding like an orchestra of kettledrums.

The coastal state, crisscrossed by 44 rivers, witnessed the heaviest downpour in nearly a century. A monster flood followed, with 11 of its 14 districts affected; 35 dams opened their shutters; hundreds of people died, and over a million were stranded. Roads became rivers, bridges collapsed, electric lines gave out, trains halted and the airport shut down. The warm blue waters looked like strong, frothy tea.


Then came the fishing boats.

In a stroke of ingenuity, a call had gone out on August 15 for a few boats to help the Army and police in the rescue mission. Over the next 72 hours, however, one of the largest civilian rescue operations the state has ever seen unfolded, with 4,500 fishermen in 700 boats swarming the once-busy towns in search of marooned men, women and children. Over 65,000 were found, and the sons of the sea rescued them all. Seven hundred boats changed the course of things, much like they did during World War II in 1940. In Dunkirk, northern France, 700 leisure yachts and fishing vessels led a dramatic evacuation of the Allied troops, prompting British premier Winston Churchill’s iconic speech: “We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall never surrender”. And they didn’t, in Kerala either. “What the fishermen did has no parallel,” chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said a day after rescue operations ended. “They are our real heroes.”

Heavy rains are not unusual in Kerala. Last year's southwest monsoon resulted in 42% more showers than normal. From August 1 to 19, the excess was 164%, according to IMD data.

It was the worst rain since 1924.

The strong winds, sheets of rain and rising flood waters had turned large stretches of land into small islands, leaving thousands of people stranded. The National Disaster Response Force personnel, Air Force choppers and Navy boats swung into action, but the government realised there weren’t enough boats. It contacted the local churches since the priests have a say in the fisherfolk community. The only questions asked were when and how.

Fisheries officials ran coordination, trucks were seized to transport boats at the earliest, barrels of kerosene were arranged, and in the early hours with the escort of police jeeps, fishermen from 10 districts were headed for the inundated areas, the farthest being 120 kilometres away.

Many of these fishermen had survived Cyclone Ockhi a few months ago, and were familiar with battering waves. But the sea hides no tree branches or electric cables beneath the tides. Catching hold of elderly women sliding down a rope entails skills entirely different from those needed to sweep up the nets at the end of the day.

When he goes out to sea in his small country boat, he is mostly alone. “I like sailing solo, rarely do I prefer company,” says Geromio, a smile deepening the cracks on his weather-beaten face. This seasoned fisherman in his mid-40s carried more than 30 people at a time in his boat as he made innumerable trips, steering through turbulent waters in an unknown village. Every single trip, he says, drew heavily from reserves of experience in battling the sea during rough and calm. “We kept moving to and fro across 10km non-stop from morning till evening. Steadying the boat in strong undercurrents was tough but toughest was to keep those rescued calm,” he recalls.

Geromie and his team would tell the people to sit tight, their heads bowed, since they might panic on seeing the soaring water that threatened to overturn the boat or the bodies that floated here and there. “The flow was so uneven that one sudden jerk could topple the boat. I ran it at high speed to overcome the current, and at the same time, I had to slow down and negate the effect as the boat rammed trees or compound walls on the way,” he says.

Back home, his wife Fabiola and two children watched the shocking scenes on television. “She knew I would come back. You don’t make promises when you go to the sea because you never know what awaits you there, but somehow we return home. Likewise, when we went for rescue, our families knew we would be back,” he says.

“We never thought we would have the privilege of riding our boats on roads and over wells.” Jack Mandela, a fisherman from Valiyaveli, has a way of easing nerves with his words. His stout frame belies the deft boatman he is at the bow. As the currents swelled, the engine driver would holler from the back and Mandela would lurch and paddle away. Whenever obstacles surfaced in the form of broken branches and cables, he would deploy the wooden pole to steady the boat. “This one doesn’t have a reverse gear. All you can do is to minimise the impact of collision. We were used to such things but the people we were carrying had to be comforted every now and then,’’ says Mandela.

His mother is his family and when he isn’t fishing, he drives an auto. “We do everything to make a living. Our multi-tasking skills were tested to the brim during the rescue efforts,’’ he says. Knots, for instance. They were never trained to make knots, but Mandela and his team had to use different types to tie ropes around pillars, iron railings, gates and their own bodies as they steered people to safety. When the boats got stuck over concrete walls or gates, they dove right into the water, sometimes as deep as nine feet, and balanced the boat from both sides as the driver pressed forward.

“When we went to an English-medium school for a reception, we were asked to talk. None of us had done that before. We started to talk and kids surrounded us and bowed. Some of the toughest guys among us just broke down on seeing that,’’ Mandela laughs.

This veteran made news even after he returned from the rescue mission, by netting a catch worth Rs 1.5 lakh in a week. But that’s just money and it didn’t hold him back from heading out to the flood-affected areas. “I would have caught some fish had I stayed back, but now I can say I saved priceless lives for two days. There is nothing that could match that achievement,’’ says Anto Alias.

A man known for his calming influence, be it on sea or land, Anto found that skill invaluable during the rescue operations. “When we were heading to one house as per the message received from officials, people stranded in others would plead to us for help. We could not have reached them at that point but every time a plea was heard, I would get as close as possible and assure them we would be there for them soon. Those words mattered a lot because they had lost all hope,’’ says Anto, who has spearheaded many causes of the fishermen community across the state.

Summons came from places they had never heard of but Anto calmly got his act together—first gathering barrels of fuel, food and water, just as his masters had taught him while heading for the deep sea. On the first day, by evening, some of the fishing boats had exhausted their fuel reserve and back-up stock and had to wait at a time when every minute was precious. Anto and his team had with them 900 litres of fuel, which kept them going for two days straight. When the surging water denied them access to move people, they found a way to get them food and water. And if they couldn’t do so at night, they assured them it would be at their doorstep first thing in the morning. Anto and his team kept their word. Many families survived on the bread and milk Anto brought them and found the strength to give the team a hug they will cherish forever.

This fisherman from Poonthura, who went to flood-ravaged Chengannur on a rescue mission, knows better than anyone what it is to be left alone surrounded by water, living solely on hope that help will come. When Ockhi hit Kerala, Joseph and his four friends were caught in the waves, their boat broken to pieces; one of them drowned in front of his eyes.

They held on for four days, gulping down sea water, until a boat came their way and brought them safely to Kulachal. Four months of hospital visits followed as the doctors tried their best to bring his battered body back into shape. This time, Joseph and his friends, Babu and Dasan, along with other fishermen from Vizhinjam, had loaded 22 boats from Vizhinjam on lorries using ropes. They banked on their skills to tackle strong undercurrents and reached out to people. “We kept talking to them when we took them in our boats. They were shattered and we thought sharing our life experience would strengthen them while we were on our way to relief camps,’’ he says.

Joseph is not an emotional man but he says he will never forget the hugs he received from complete strangers. “I didn’t even ask their names, they just held our hands and hugged us and would break down when we dropped them at relief camps. I am never going to forget that experience. When my kids grow up, I want to share it with them," he says.

1924 vis-à-vis 2018

Prabhash K Dutta, Why Kerala fears repeat of 1924 havoc in 2018 rainfall, August 16, 2018: India Today

Performance of South-West Monsoon 2018 over Kerala.
From 1 June 2018 to 15 August 2018.
Cumulative rainfall for Kerala- South West Monsoon 2018
From: Prabhash K Dutta, Why Kerala fears repeat of 1924 havoc in 2018 rainfall, August 16, 2018: India Today

According to district-wise India Meteorological Department data for rainfall this monsoon, 283 of 640 or nearly 45 per cent districts of the country are facing deficient rain. But Kerala is a contrasting case where 12 of 14 districts are facing heavy rainfall and floods. The heavy rainfall has forced the opening of shutters of all the major dams.

People in the state fear a repeat of what they call "the Great Flood of 99". This is a reference to Malayalam Era 1099 corresponding to 1924 of Gregorian calendar, the one which is most commonly used.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday, August 14, said, "This is the worst monsoon disaster since 1924."

On Thursday, Union minister KJ Alphons, who is from Kerala, echoed almost verbatim Vijayan's quote: "These are the worst floods since 1924."

The southwest monsoonal rainfall for 1924 remains the highest in the recorded history. A total of 3,368 mm water poured from the sky. In a spell of rainfall for three continuous weeks, most parts of Kerala were submerged.

Periyar river flooded large areas as Mullaperiyar dam had gave way to water pressure. The floodwater washed away an entire hill called Karinthiri Malai. It was a total disaster during that rainy season. Official data are not available but 1,000-plus people were said to have died in the great flood of 1924.

This monsoon it hasn't poured as much as 1924. According to the met department, the cumulative rainfall for Kerala from southwest monsoon between June 1 and August 15 was 2,087.67 mm, a departure of nearly 30 per cent from the normal 1,606.05 mm rainfall. But still a couple of weeks of active monsoon are left and the 1924 record could be breached.

But Kerala's case is a departure. The reason is that the weather scientists are of the view that southwest monsoon has 'dried' in the past 115 years. They have analysed the rainfall data from 1901 to 2016 and found a declining trend in monsoonal rain.

However, there is another Kerala specific trend, which suggests a rising rainfall quantity in the state in the past few years. Kerala seems to be having a cyclical pattern of monsoonal rainfall. The 2013 rainfall in Kerala was the highest in recent years.

Kerala received 2,561.2mm of monsoonal rain in 2013. The downpour volume declined thereafter reaching an ebb in 2015, when the state faced a drought-like situation. The southwest monsoonal rainfall has been increasing after 2015. Total southwest monsoonal rainfall last year was 1,855.9 mm, a deficiency of nine per cent from the average rainfall which is considered normal.

But the spike in the amount of rainfall this year has been surprising. Kerala has reported more than 215 landslides due to excessive rainfall. Roads of over 10,000 km length have been damaged. Around 20,000 homes have been destroyed and more than 75 people have died this monsoon season in Kerala.

See also

Floods in Tamil Nadu

Floods in India

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