Floods in Tamil Nadu

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Floods in TN city-wise

The Hindu, December 14, 2015

A 1985 picture of the Marmalong bridge in Saidapet that was submerged later; Graphic courtesy: The Hindu, December 14, 2015

Memories of rain ravaged Madras

The Hindu, December 10, 2015


Former Chief Minister MGR wading through knee-deep waters; Graphic courtesy: The Hindu, December 10, 2015

There were several catastrophic flooding in Chennai in 1943, 1978, 1985, 2002 and 205 caused by heavy rain associated with cyclonic activity. These disruptive events were found to be atrributable to failure in maintaining major rivers and drainage systems. Flooding of lesser magnitude occurs regularly in low-lying areas of Chennai and its suburbs because of inoperativeness of the local drainage infrastructure Though cyclones, depressions and storms are an annual occurrence in Chennai, some years like 1985 or 1976 are unforgettable.

As the recent deluge recedes and landmarks in the city become visible once again, sheets of water vanish to reveal the black tar on roads, and a battered population tries to get back to its feet, images of rains, floods and suffering from the past come to the mind.

Though cyclones, depressions and storms are an annual occurrence in Chennai, some years like 1985, when former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran was evacuated from his Ramapuram garden home, or 1976, when the Army stepped in to keep the Manali oil refinery running, are unforgettable.

1903- Rains bring floods

In 1903, the year the Indian National Congress session was held in Madras, the city faced heavy rains and floods. Historian V. Sriram says that leading lawyer and judge of the Madras High Court V. Krishnaswamy Iyer, who was the main force behind the session, had put up delegates at his bungalow on Luz Church Road. “After the session, his work was greatly appreciated by those in the welcoming committee and even by Dada Bhai Navroji, who was impressed by his shraddai,” he says.

1918 - 'Cyclone of unusual fury'

The year 1918 too was bad. “A terrible cyclone of unusual fury passed through Madras. The Madras public was quite unprepared to meet the uncommon storm as the report was received yesterday and could not be published in the newspapers,” says a report in The Hindu on November 11, 1918.

1943: No trains to ride

Writer Ashokamitran, who came to Madras in 1943 to drop his sister at her husband’s home in Saidapet, recalls how trains wouldn’t ply to Saidapet due to the rain. “We had bought tickets for Saidapet but the train stopped at Mambalam. We took a jutka to Saidapet and dropped her,” he says. It was in 1943 that The Hindu’s Srinivasan offered to print other newspapers when power supply was restored to The Hindu alone.

The 1985 floods bear a semblance to this year’s fury. The Kotturpuram slum clearance board tenements were flooded, with Ambattur and Madhavaram dairies flooded most of the city went without milk, water from Chembarambakkam was released and people residing on the banks were cautioned to move to safer places. It was this year too that Chief Minister M. G. Ramachandran and his wife Janaki shifted to the Connemara Hotel after waters from the raging Adyar river surrounded their Ramavaram Garden house. He took a boat from his house to reach his car parked on higher ground on the Porur Road and then drove to the hotel.

In more recent times, in 2005, torrential rain, caused by a deep depression over the Bay of Bengal, disrupted life in Chennai and northern Tamil Nadu in October. At least 50,000 people were shifted to relief centres, as houses in several low-level areas were submerged. The rainstorm in northern Tamil Nadu came just as the Cauvery districts were slowly recovering from the heavy flooding that followed huge inflows into the river from Karnataka.

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

A look at the floods that ravaged Chennai then and now:

1 The floods in 1943 were historic and damaged Cooum river very badly. Based on the Er.A.R.Venkatachary's Report the government had improved the Cooum river and provided a sand pump at the river mouth of sand bar. 2 In 1978, there was catastrophic flooding in Chennai and this time it was the turn of the Adyar river. Earlier, Er.P.Sivalingam Committee had given its recommendations for prevention for further damages from floods and recommended schemes to be implemented in the short and long terms. 3 The floods that occurred in 2005 were one of the worst in living memory. Although several ameliorating measures have been implemented they have failed to provide total relief to Chennai citizens. 4 Most of the existing waterways are silted and their flow channels and banks are obstructed with encraochments and structures. So is the case with reservoirs and tanks. Secondly several of the areas under tanks and their anicuts have been developed as residential neighbourhoods over the years. 5 T.Nagar, Nungambakkam, Vyasarpadi are instances in this respect. The Taramani area has been developed as an institutional area. Thirdly the geological structure particularly in the south-west is not conducive to water infiltration.

Tiruchi: 1977

The Hindu, December 9, 2015

Floodwaters inundating the roads near St.Joseph's College in Tiruchi during the heavy floods of 1977; Graphic courtesy: The Hindu, December 9, 2015


As many as ten floods within a century and sleepless nights on the terrace

The Cauvery River and the Coleroon, essentially a flood carrier, several minor rivers, jungle streams and the network of irrigation system make Tiruchi flood-prone, especially during the North East monsoon. Tiruchi has witnessed floods in 1924, 1952, 1954, 1965, 1977, 1979, 1983, 1999, 2000 and in 2005.

Tiruchi 1977 still haunts those who survived the fury. The Cauvery was in spate with heavy inflows from Karnataka when a strong cyclone crossed the Nagapattinam coast on November 12 sweeping in nothing but water, wind and havoc. Though it got weakened into a cyclonic storm that evening over interior parts of Tamil Nadu, it emerged in the Lakshadweep islands the following day as a deep depression, according to a record of the Indian Meteorological Department (http://www.imd.gov.in/section/nhac/static/cyclone-history-bb.htm).

“The maximum wind (speed) recorded is about 120 kmph on the 12th morning in Thanjavur, Tiruchirapalli and Pudukottai districts. An estimated 560 people died and more than 10 lakh were rendered homeless. 23,000 heads of cattle perished. The total damage to private and public property is estimated to be Rs.155 crore,” says the record.

Most parts of Tiruchi city and scores of villages in the composite district were up to seven feet under water. In Tiruchi city, the water almost reached the Mainguard Gate, the gateway to Rockfort. “St. Joseph’s College, Holy Cross College and Seethalakshmi Ramaswami College were inundated. The famous library of St. Joseph’s College suffered extensive damage,” recalls a former vice-principal V. Rangarajan. “The library lost 21,000 volumes of books on November 13,” says a reference in the college website.

Mr. Rangarajan observes that the water level rose rapidly. There were three feet of water in his ground floor house off the Salai Road nearby in no time. Many residents spent two or three nights atop terraces, including this writer, then in school. The Army was called out and fishermen from coastal areas chipped in, rescuing people in coracles from the marooned areas. With radio being the only mode of communication then, rumours kept people on tenterhooks. A rumour that the Bhavanisagar Dam had burst saw hundreds of people running on the streets and many climbed the Rockfort with whatever personal belongings they could carry.

The city faced an equally severe flood in 2005. The Cauvery breached its bank at Vengur near Tiruchi and overflowed at several other places. The island town of Srirangam, wedged between Cauvery and Coleroon, came under threat as the Cauvery bank almost breached at Melur before villagers and the Army reinforced the bund, averting a disaster.

Thamirabharani, 1992

The Hindu, December 9, 2015

An old bridge across Servalar river, leading to Papanasam dam, was washed away in the 1992 floods; Graphic courtesy: The Hindu, December 9, 2015


After an 8-hour downpour, triggered by cyclonic activity, battered Ambasamudram, Vickramasingapuram and Papanasam, all situated close to the Papanasam and Servalar dams in the Western Ghats, on November 13, 1992, residents, who had never witnessed such torrential rain, confined themselves to their houses out of fear.

And the few families living at Thiruvalluvar Nagar near the Tamirabharani watercourse at Vickramasingapuram went to bed in the night with the hope that the downpour would subside in the morning. However, the unprecedented heavy overnight discharge from these reservoirs ultimately became a watery grave for 17 persons as they were trapped in their houses. Even as these two dams were overflowing, Papanasam dam, built by the British, received 310 mm of rainfall on November 13, 1992, and the Servalar dam recorded 210 mm rainfall. On its part, the Papanasam Lower Dam experienced a rainfall of 190 mm.

At the same time, the precipitation was unprecedented at Vickramasingapuram and Ambasamudram on the foothills of the Western Ghats, which received a rainfall of 320.60 mm on that day and the nearby Manimuthar dam, had 260.80 mm rainfall.

Left with no other option, the officials were compelled to open the floodgates of Papanasam and Seravalar dams in the night of that fateful day.

Water discharged from the two dams knocked down the Mundanthurai bridge within a few minutes and submerged houses on the banks of the river killing 17 persons at Thiruvalluvar Nagar in the early hours of November 14, 1992.

The situation worsened within next 60 minutes when over 60,000 cusecs of water was discharged from the Manimuthar dam. “The Tamirabharani carried a surplus water of 2,04,273.80 cusecs from three dams alone on that day and the quantum of water that flowed into the river from the rainfall at Vickramasingapuram, Ambasamudram and Kallidaikurichi was immeasurable,” recalls a Public Works Department staff, who was then working at Manimuthar dam.

Consequently, the flood that triggered devastation everywhere entered even Tirunelveli Junction bus stand, submerged more than 10 buses parked there and entered the Collectorate along on the banks. The flood subsided after nearly 48 hours after inundating most of the commercial establishments around the bus stand and railway junction and nearby residential areas like Sindupoondurai, Kailasapuram and Meenakshipuram.

Madurai: 1993

The Hindu, December 10, 2015

A still from rescue operations in Madurai; The Hindu, December 10, 2015


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.

See also

Floods in India

Floods in Tamil Nadu

Floods in Chennai

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