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Tamil Nadu: Extremely Heavy Rains Batter Southern Districts, Rescue Operation Underway

Most of the rivers in the affected districts are in spate, major, minor and irrigation dams are overflowing and low-lying areas are severely flooded.
NDRF personnel conduct a rescue operation in a flooded area after heavy rainfall, in Tuticorin, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023. (PTI Photo) (PTI12_18_2023_000276B)

NDRF personnel conduct a rescue operation in a flooded area after heavy rainfall, in Tuticorin, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023. Image Courtesy: PTI 

Extremely heavy rains are lashing the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, particularly Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi. A few towns received more than 50 cm rain within 24 hours from the morning of December 17, with Kayalpattinam in Thoothukudi district recording a massive 93 mm rain, much more than the annual average rainfall of 70 cm. 

According to India Meteorological Department, 39 regions saw extremely heavy rainfall.

Most of the rivers in the affected districts are in spate, major, minor and irrigation dams are overflowing and low-lying areas are severely flooded. Water is being discharged from several dams in the districts leading to flooding in low lying areas.

Most parts of the Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi cities were flooded due to the rivers breaching the safety level.

Teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are pressed into service to rescue people stranded in flooded areas while relief camps are opened across the districts. Transport facilities are badly affected, as trains running to the southern districts are halted at Virudhunagar station and flights arriving and departing from Thoothukudi airport remain cancelled. 

Tenkasi and Kanyakumari districts also received heavy to extreme heavy rainfall since the past 24 to 36 hours.

The government of Tamil Nadu announced a public holiday in all four districts to avert any dangers due to the heavy rainfall and flooding. One person has died of a house collapse in Tirunelveli, as several huts and houses are reportedly damaged.

The intensity of rains started to pick up by early morning on December 17 due to the Upper Air Circulation (UAC) over Sri Lanka. The slow movement of the UAC combined by the presence at a low altitude led to intense rainfall, not witnessed in the recent few decades. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted extreme heavy rainfall in Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, Kanniyakumari and Tenkasi districts till December 19, with moderate rains predicted till December 24. 

The important areas in Tirunelveli including the Railway Station and Junction Bus Stand were inundated by rain water as much as 5 feet deep, throwing life out of gear. More than 300 relief camps have been set up, housing around 4,000 people. The Thamirabarani river, overflowing due to intense rainfall in catchment areas and plains, is continuing to fill up tanks and ponds. 

The hilly regions including Manjolai, Manimuthar and other places received very heavy rain, leading to snapping of road transport and communication facilities.

People are being rescued by the NDRF teams through boats and IAF helicopters. Besides, a number of boats are being dispatched to the affected areas from the fishing hamlets to rescue people stuck in areas isolated due to damage of roads. A concrete house in the city collapsed in the afternoon. 

Upto 4.30 a.m on December 18, the district received a total of 6338.6 mm rain across 18 rain gauge stations with an average of 353 mm. All the 18 gauge stations except one, recorded more than 300 mm rainfall.

The situation in Thoothukudi district is also similarly disastrous, as the district collector’s office, railway stations and residential areas are submerged under water. Highways connecting the city with other parts are inundated under water and public transport is being suspended in many areas. Fishing boats, boats by the fire and rescue department, NDRF are being pressed into service.

The total rainfall recorded from 19 rain gauge stations for 24 hours ending at 6 am on December 18 is 6684.1 mm at an average of 351.79 mm, falling under the extremely heavy rainfall category. Kayalpatiinam, a coastal town received 932 mm rainfall, while Srivaikuntam and Tiruchendur recorded more than 600 mm rainfall. 

The railway service to Tiruchendur and Thoothukudi from Tirunelveli remains suspended as flood water has washed away portions of track in the line. The Tiruchendur express which departed to Chennai last evening is still being held up in a station for more than 18 hours with the passengers stranded without much help.

The increasing water discharge in the Thamirabarani river and several dams in the district are increasing the water levels in the rural and urban areas. Several coastal hamlets have raised alarms and urged for helicopters to rescue them as roads are totally cut off and rescuing through boats remains a challenge. 

The damage to infrastructure and crops would be very high, given the unprecedented rainfall and water flowing through residential areas, leading to damage of houses, government offices, roads and other facilities. 

The government of Tamil Nadu has deputed nine ministers to coordinate the rescue operations, while the district administrations have swung into action with setting up relief camps, evacuating people and providing food items for those in need. 

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