INDIA: Tamil Nadu, a state already reeling from the aftermath of Cyclone Michaung that struck on 4 December, now finds itself grappling with another natural disaster.
Heavy rains pounded the southern districts of Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, Tenkasi, and Kanyakumari on 17 and 18 December, bringing life to a standstill and causing massive inundation.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued warnings, predicting continued thunderstorms and rainfall.
The southern districts witnessed their annual rainfall in a single day, intensifying the ongoing crisis. Flash floods were reported in many places in Thoothukudi.
The impact on transportation was significant, with the cancellation of at least a dozen trains, as well as bus and flight services to Thoothukudi.
Anna University postponed exams, and schools and colleges across several districts declared holidays.
Devastating floods engulf commercial hubs
The severity of the situation became apparent as the ground floors of commercial complexes, hotels, and lodges around the Tirunelveli Junction Bus Stand were submerged underwater.
The main challenge faced by the affected areas is water stagnation, which has submerged entire towns in 3-4 feet of water, with the town bus stand registering over 7 feet of water.
In response to the crisis, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin directed officials to exercise caution in managing lake and canal waters to prevent further damage.
Despite the severity of the situation, the death toll has been relatively low, with district authorities confirming about five fatalities.
One of the five confirmed deaths in the state was due to a house wall collapse, as a 75-year-old man was killed in the Ramanathapuram district.
The intensity of the rainfall has been unprecedented, setting records in several areas.
In Palayamkottai, Tirunelveli, 44.2 cm of rain has been recorded, surpassing the previous highest rainfall of 29.2 cm in 1963. Similarly, the highest rainfall for December in Palayamkottai was previously 20 cm in 1931.
In Kayalpattinam, Thoothukudi district, an extraordinary 95 cm of rainfall was recorded in 24 hours, marking the highest rainfall ever recorded in the plains of Tamil Nadu.
The surging waters caused significant damage in Virudhunagar and Madurai, prompting the opening of the Vaigai dam to manage the rising water levels.
The unprecedented rainfall has led to increased water levels in the Thamirabarani River, submerging the bridge across the river and worsening the situation in Tirunelveli town and surrounding areas.
Situation remains critical
Many houses in low-lying areas along the Thamirabarani River have been flooded following the torrential rains, and numerous low-lying areas were inundated.
In response to the crisis, Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary Shiv Das Meena announced on Monday (18 Dec) that the state government has requested assistance from the three Armed forces to aid in rescuing stranded people.
The Indian Navy swiftly dispatched two boats to aid the flood-ravaged people in the Thoothukudi region.
According to a defence spokesperson, a Navy flight landed at INS Parundu with two boats in Thoothukudi, where passenger flight operations have been cancelled due to the heavy rain.
“These two boats will be pressed into service to rescue those affected by the floods in Thoothukudi,” the spokesperson said.
In a massive relief operation, approximately 1,000 firefighters from neighbouring districts, accompanied by 67 fire engines and 43 boats, have been dispatched to assist in the affected districts.
Additionally, two teams from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and three teams from the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) have been deployed to manage the crisis.
Ministers, including Sports Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin, and senior IAS officers have been stationed in the affected areas to oversee relief efforts. The office of the Tirunelveli district collector reported that 40 of the 696 pregnant women, who are due to deliver within the next 30 days, have been shifted to hospitals, with ongoing efforts to provide help and relief to more.
Water has entered several hospitals in the region, posing a serious threat to healthcare facilities. In response, several schools and wedding halls in the region have been converted into relief camps, providing shelter to those displaced by the floods.
The situation remains critical, and the state continues to mobilize resources for swift and effective relief.
IAF helicopter airdrops relief materials in the rain and flood-affected areas of Tamil Nadu pic.twitter.com/2XmGLeRW1d
— ANI (@ANI) December 20, 2023
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