After Chennai, unprecedented deluge wreaks havoc in southern Tamil Nadu

Torrents inundate Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli, Tenkasi, leaving a trail of destruction. Relief efforts are scrambled.  

Published : Dec 18, 2023 21:33 IST - 4 MINS READ

A flooded locality in Tirunelveli on December 18, 2023. In the 24 hours ending at 8.30 am on December 18, 18 stations in Tirunelveli recorded an average of 55.82 mm rainfall.

A flooded locality in Tirunelveli on December 18, 2023. In the 24 hours ending at 8.30 am on December 18, 18 stations in Tirunelveli recorded an average of 55.82 mm rainfall. | Photo Credit: PTI

Chennai and its neighboring districts are still reeling from the devastation of cyclone Michaung when a second major deluge, this time paralysing four districts in southern Tamil Nadu, slammed the State. A severe weather forecast remains in place for the next 24 hours in these regions. Road and rail communication to many parts of Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli, and Tenkasi have been completely cut off. State officials interviewed by this correspondent admitted that while they had received predictions of heavy rainfall, they lacked specific information about the intensity of the storm from any agency. Consequently, most relief efforts only began after the full force of the downpour became apparent on December 18.

Almost every household in Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, and Thenkasi has been impacted by the relentless torrents of rain that have lashed the region since December 15. However, the worst was yet to come on the night of December 17, when rainfall records were shattered in as many as 39 locations across the four districts. 

“The major towns, Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi are literally floating,” said a journalist stationed in Tirunelveli. “Some places away from the river [Thamirabharani] are fine, but any settlement close to the river is inundated,” he added. Most roads to Tirunelveli were cut off by morning while flight and train traffic to Thoothukudi came to a halt by December 17 night.  

An official involved in relief in Nagercoil said that ‘unprecedented’ is a word that is being used every new week, with every fresh spell of rain. “Nagercoil is used to heavy spells of rain, but many places in Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli have not seen this kind of rain anytime,” the official added.   

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In the 24 hours ending at 8.30 am on December 18, 18 stations in Tirunelveli recorded an average of 55.82 mm rainfall. The highest was in Nalumukku with 169 mm and the lowest in Nambiyar Dam, with 9 mm. As many as four stations recorded over 100 mm rainfall. Though stations in Thoothukudi did not record as much rainfall, the fact that Thootukudi is downstream of Tirunelveli, sunk the entire district.  

As if this was not enough, from 8.30 am of December 18, rains have been lashing Thoothukudi, and at least four stations have recorded over 400 mm of rain. All schools and other educational institutions are shut and will be used as relief centres.  

Thamirabarani River, the lifeline of Tenkasi, Tirunelveli, and Thoothukudi districts, breached its banks in most places, and it seemed like the river was spread over a kilometre in most places—not one spot along the river was spared. Vaippar, another minor river, is flowing near its highest flood level. Every small river and tributary turned lethal water streams across the four districts.  

Tamil Nadu weatherman (@praddy06) posted on social media platform X that Kayalpattinam in Tiruchendur taluk recorded 932 mm rain in 24 hours—and this is the highest rainfall recorded in plains in Tamil Nadu in a day and that this amount of rain is the annual rainfall of that town.  “Over the last 25 years, I have compiled this data,” he noted on X. “50 cm in 24 hours in plains is very, very rare without cyclonic storms,” he added. 

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West Coast Weatherman (@RainTracker) noted on X: “This is not a normal monsoon flood. This is not a normal flood. These are once in 200 years spell. Anyone living in groundfloor in these districts should move to higher ground immediately.” While noting that the rains in Kerala during these days are normal, he advised Sabarimala pilgrims to avoid visiting Aryankavu and Achenkoil and avoid using the Schengottai ghats roads as extreme rains are expected.  

The problem that one administrator pointed out was that since they did not have adequate warning from the Met department, they had given people the option of shifting to a relief centre but did not compel anyone to do so. “We sent out text messages on December 17. The response was poor. By December 18 morning, we were not in a position to move them even if they wanted to be moved because that was the intensity of the overnight rain,” one official said.

Many elected representatives from the region reached their constituencies only late on December 18. Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, Chief Secretary Shivdas Meena, and disaster mitigation teams had a series of meetings. The Chief Minister deputed four Ministers to monitor the rain-hit districts. On the state government’s request, the Government of India arranged helicopters to reach food to the marooned people in Tirunelveli. The National Disaster Relief teams too have been moved only on December 18 “in strength.” 

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