CHENNAI: For the better part of the year, rivers Palar and Thenpennaiyar
navigate through sandbars. Monsoon means the trickle turns into a flow. This year, the rivers have been swelling, pushing against homes along their banks, inundating localities and leaving behind a trail of destruction.
The incessant rain during the past week in parts of Karnataka
, Andhra Pradesh
and Tamil Nadu
, where the rivers flow through, and release of surplus water from dams have led to flash floods. Along Palar, close to 6,000 people have been shifted over the weekend. Thenpennaiyar reported breaches in check dams in several places, damaging crops and killing people. A central team is assessing the full extent of loss to life and property. Ahead of the another low pressure that is heading towards the state, TOI correspondents bring ground reports on how residents along the rivers were caught by surprise. The second part is from the banks of the Palar
It was 2am on November 19, when P Jayalakshmi was woken up by neighbours shouting that water in the river was rising. There was just enough time to rush out of the hut to the nearby school. Living on the banks of the Palar, in Hyderpuram off Pallikonda bridge, the septuagenarian’s hut was washed away, while the other 50 families lost several belongings in the deluge.
Last week, the otherwise languidly flowing river reached a record high, carrying 1.05 lakh cusecs of water from Palar anicut after heavy rainfall and surplus outflow from water bodies along its course upstream in Andhra Pradesh. Along its way, several hectares of agricultural and horticultural crops were submerged, and huts and concrete houses on the embankments were damaged.
Jayalakshmi, lost much of her belongings. “Had I not been alerted, I wouldn’t have survived to tell you my story,” she says, while trying to fathom here to begin picking up the pieces of what remains of her home.
Near Kamaraj bridge in Gudiyatham, where water level of Kavundanyanadhi, a tributary of Palar, rose drastically, several concrete houses collapsed in the force of the gushing water. At Indira Nagar, in Kondasamudram panchayat, handloom weavers had to leave their belongings and rush out when concrete beams gave way.
The towns and villages along the Palar and its tributaries witnessed such fury of nature after three decades. The only time the river’s flow touched close to one lakh cusecs was in 1991, when Palar anicut released 98,128 cusecs (one cusec is 28.3 litres per second) of water.
On Friday at 3.45am, the anicut in Ranipet district recorded peak flow — there was a sudden rise of 75,000 cusecs within 24 hours. While standing crops were damaged at Athipattu panchayat near Kaveripakkam, at Sadik Batcha Nagar, MGR Nagar and Kalaignar Nagar in Melvisharam, 390 families had to be evacuated to a relief centre as houses were under almost four feet of water. The settlements had come on the water course poromboke land three decades ago. “It was a trauma with children and elders around. All our belongings were submerged in water. We lost our kitchen utensils,” says A Noorjahan, who on Tuesday, was busy clearing sludge from her two-room home.
Many culverts and bridges across Palar and its tributaries were damaged. For instance, the broken Madanur-Gudiyatham bridge is forcing people to take a detour of more than 20km. An iron bridge had to be built by the district administration after the links to Melalathur, Pattu and Olakasi villages were cut off.
At present, tanks and reservoirs in the Palar river basin have reached full capacity following heavy downpour. Low storage capacity of water bodies, experts believe, is one of the reasons for surplus water in the Palar. A Saminathan, Vellore district deputy secretary, All India Kisan Sabha, said, “Strengthening of tanks, tributaries and rivers must be the foremost concern of the state government, followed by removal of encroachments,” he says.
Lack of check dams resulted in Devalapuram, Thuthipet and Periyavarigam panchayats near Ambur being inundated for several days.
Exploitation of the river is another major reason for the large-scale damage. Social activist A Manoharan says that indiscriminate sand mining has caused havoc to the system as bridges give way. “The miners are all waiting for the water to recede,” he said.
Palar river, which has borne the brunt of tanneries and other industries, also remains a major source of drinking water for the northern districts with a number of wells dotting the river bed and pump houses on the banks running uninterruptedly to supply water
It is so taken for granted that small makeshift markets were operating on the riverbed near Arcot bridge. On Friday, many of them suffered losses, reminding everyone that business at the cost of the river comes with a risk.