Grim reality surfaces as Kerala floods ebb; rain disrupts Kodagu rescue operations
Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram: Floodwaters started receding across Kerala as rain became intermittent on Sunday, even as the death toll in the unprecedented floods since August 8 rose to 209. With 7,24,649, people living in more than 5,600 camps and extensive damage to infrastructure that includes 10,000km of broken roads, Kerala now faces the mammoth task of rehabilitation, preventing disease and rebuilding the state. Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan promised on Sunday to reach and rescue the last stranded person. To the great relief of state administration, the Met office said heavy showers were not expected in the state in the next five days. The immediate concern is preventing epidemics and water-borne diseases, even as health experts warned of a possible rise in cases of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that affects both humans and animals, and is contracted when cuts in the skin come in contact with infected animal urine. Preliminary estimates suggest that repairing the main roads alone would cost Rs 4,441 crore. “NHAI and PWD have agreed to do immediately repair the damaged roads,” CM Vijayan said. Vijayan said ensuring hygiene and clearing waste from flood-hit areas was going to be a huge challenge. He said that each affected ward will have separate teams to ensure hygiene and that volunteers will be enrolled for this task. The CM chaired a series of meetings on Sunday to put in place a preliminary framework for rebuilding Kerala. Ministers, senior officials of railways, PWD and other departments attended the meeting. It was decided that as soon as water recedes, local bodies will begin inspection of each evacuated home for electrical and structural safety. Care will be taken to prevent electrical accidents once power supply is restored to abandoned homes.
Kerala State Road Transport Corporation and the railways restored services in more routes on Sunday. With Ernakulam-Shoranur rail route still closed, travelling to Malabar continues to be a problem. The state also decided to provide textbooks and uniforms free of cost to all students who lost them during the flood. In isolated pockets, the water level wasn’t receding quickly enough and people remained stranded. At Chengannur in Alappuzha district, at least 5,000 were still stranded, according to revenue officials. The CM commended the yeoman service rendered by fishermen in rescue missions. He also thanked the Union government, PM Narendra Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh, governor P Sathasivam and the non-resident Keralite community for their overwhelming support in the hour of need. Indicating the worldwide attention, the Kerala floods have attracted, worshippers at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican on Sunday held aloft signs that read “Pray for Kerala”. Pope Francis said, “Our solidarity and the concrete support of the international community should not lack for our brothers (in Kerala)”. Doctors warned of the threat of diseases as people return to abandoned houses. Dr Ashadevi, additional district medical officer (public health), said the health department was expecting more cases of fever and leptospirosis from flood-hit areas. “We have initiated preventive measures and distributed doxycycline tablets to all people leaving relief camps. Volunteers and health officials should carry out cleaning work only after consuming doxycycline tablets,” the ADMO said. Meanwhile, the water level in the Idukki reservoir rose to 2,402.3 feet at 4 pm on Sunday.
2005 & 2018 lessons: Airports near rivers prone to flooding
Cochin: The flooding of Kochi airport in the past week is the latest example of the vulnerability of major Indian airports that have sprung up in the floodplains of rivers. That vulnerability could rise, say experts, as climate change is projected to increase extreme rainfall events. Cochin International Airport (CIAL) is expected to remain shut until August 28. The prolonged closure echoes what happened in Mumbai in 2005 and Chennai in 2015 when those cities were hit by floods due to unprecedented rainfall. Both cities saw their airport runways closed and operations affected for weeks following the flood. The airports were not only built near rivers but had expanded their runways into the nearby rivers. Kochi’s airport, built in the floodplains of the Periyar River, is relatively new. In the 1990s, “Kochi was at risk of falling off the aviation map entirely. Out of necessity, [the new airport] was founded on paddy fields and land that used to be part of the Chengal canal,” said a CIAL official. Locals and activists blame the development for aggravating flooding in the area. “Every river has a floodplain that is supposed to hold the water, and this is an integral part of the river. In Kerala, these floodplains usually manifest as canals and ponds,” says local environmentalist C R Neelakandan. CIAL managing director VJ Kurian, however, denied the airport had made the area flood-prone. Authorities did not build over the Chengal canal, he said, but diverted it to prevent flooding at the airport.
As Mumbai has seen, however, altering the course of a waterway can be disastrous. Both runways of the Mumbai airport were extended over the time across the adjacent Mithi River, squeezing the width of the channel. The second runway, built in the 1970s, created a right angle-bend in the river. The airport’s expansion is widely held to have contributed to the 2005 floods, when the Mithi River overflowed after hours of intense rainfall. Airport authorities have since sought to mitigate the problem by doubling the width of the Mithi as well as dredging the riverbed to make it deeper. Despite the 2005 experience, the Maharashtra government has decided to locate the region’s second airport near two rivers. Workers are already leveling a hill and diverting the Ulwe river for the Navi Mumbai airport. Officials say the Ulwe River’s mouth will be widened and the airport located above flood level. But surrounding villages are already complaining of more flooding. In Chennai, too, the second runway was extended in 2011 across Adyar River on a bridge supported by closely-stacked pillars that block water flow. Although the airport has flood retaining walls and a raised runway, they were no proof against the water released from Chembaramkkam dam after the 2015 intense rainfall. Authorities have since widened part of the river and regularly desilt the channel near the bridge.
Why would anyone place a critical and expensive piece of infrastructure near a river? Probably because of the flat topography, says Kapil Gupta, professor of civil engineering at IIT-Bombay, who was consulted by the Mumbai airport after the 2005 floods. He notes that at least 4km of flat land is needed for a runway, apart from what is needed for the adjacent facilities. Plus, older airports like Mumbai and Chennai were small when they were first built several decades ago and would not have been so close to the river. As air traffic increased, planes became bigger, and the city developed around them, these airports have expanded toward the river. Not every airport near a water body is vulnerable. Goa airport is a coastal one but is on a plateau with cliffs on two sides, deep storm water drains and the runways have water spill off channels. Mysuru airport is near two lakes and a stream but it is upstream of the water bodies and is not so vulnerable. The National Disaster Management Authority guidelines highlight the importance of airports in emergencies and recommend the provision of ample drainage and holding ponds. “Such ponds should be kept empty to absorb flood overflow,” said urban drainage expert Gupta, who had also recommended this measure to the Mumbai airport. Such holding ponds are present in Dulles airport in Washington DC as well as Heathrow in London. With 100 new airports proposed, experts say it’s vital to plan them well. “Ideally, you should not have critical infrastructure in a floodplain, but if you do, you need to design it properly for drainage,” says Gupta. “You need to build infrastructure to survive at least a 100-year-flood”.
After molestation case, University speeds up 300 CCTV’s plan
Mumbai: A molestation complaint on the Kalina campus earlier this month has prompted Mumbai University to expedite the process to set up about 300 CCTV cameras at all entry and exit points. A survey report on the requirement of CCTV and other measures needed for enhanced security on the campus spread over 213 acres of land had been gathering dust since 2012. The university’s vice-chancellors too have been setting aside budgetary allocations for the same in the past. Recently, the university allocated Rs 70 lakh to buy security equipment. At a meeting held on August 10, the university decided to install CCTV cameras at entry and exit points of all buildings, said a university official. For example, there are three or four entrances at Ranade Bhavan on the campus, where the university plans to install CCTVs.
A post-graduate student was molested by an unidentified person at Ranade Bhavan, prompting authorities to take note of lax security on the sprawling campus. The university’s women’s development cell, which probed the complaint, recommended installation of CCTV cameras, said the official. While the cell also recommended having more females in the security, the university has about 30 personnel. An FIR was lodged against an unidentified person after the Women’s Development Cell’s report. Senate member Pradeep Sawant said the university has agreed to use its emergency funds to set up CCTV cameras at the earliest. “The security report emphasized the need for a huge monitoring room with trained professionals and the varsity has agreed to provide one. The authorities will block all short-cut routes to the campus,” said Sawant.
Schools to lose recognition if safety rules not followed
New Delhi: The Delhi government has warned schools of withdrawal of recognition and disciplinary proceedings against principals if student safety guidelines are not complied with. DoE has asked all schools to ensure that school safety work is carried out as per schedule and quarterly reports sent to the directorate diligently. The order, issued by new director of education Sanjay Goel, slams several private and government institutions for their “half-hearted compliance” to its and HC orders. “No wonder then, that there is no respite in the number of various types of physical, emotional and sexual assaults on school children-within the school boundaries and outside. In fact, such incidents are on the rise,” the order reads. The order states that if government, government aided and private schools are serious about providing “fool proof” safety and security to children, they must ensure compliance of the directions. It stressed on the need to constitute school safety sub-committees, comprising parents, teachers and students, conduct monthly security walks along with at least five members of the panel and submit online safety reports to the directorate. “DoE shall initiate disciplinary proceedings against the heads of its own government schools and the estate managers thereof, if they fail to follow the tenets of above circulars and guidelines in word and spirit,” the order reads. In case of private schools, “deliberate and repeated noncompliance” will also lead to withdrawal of recognition. The director has stressed that a school safety checklist, which was released in November last year, be followed during the safety walks.
Nature hits back: Landslides, floods due to mining, Tourism
FAST AND FURIOUS: Floods have washed away the bridge at Haleri, cutting off the area. Rescuers reached the spot on Sunday and evacuated at least 40 families.
Bengaluru: Unabated illegal sand mining, deforestation and a steep increase in tourism and infrastructure development activities are being cited as the major causes for the monsoon mayhem in Kodagu and other Malnad districts, which claimed at least 12 lives in the past fortnight. Disaster management department officials said rampant illegal sand mining weakened embankments at many places along the Cauvery and its tributaries, which collapsed in the face of a steady buildup of water in the rain catchment areas, following record rain. The worst affected in Kodagu are villages on the banks of the Hattihole, a tributary of the Harangi river that connects Cauvery at Kudige in Somwarpet taluk. Officials said there had been extensive damage to embankments of Hattihole, where illegal sand mining and encroachment was rampant, while protection bunds had caved in. “Encroachments on both banks of the river have narrowed down the river’s width. The riverbed, which had a sand carpet 15–20 feet thick, spread across its width, has disappeared following indiscriminate mining of sand for over a decade, in spite of rules prohibiting such activities,” said Satish Charmanna, a local coffee planter and green activist. The situation is similar in Lakshmana Theertha and other tributaries of the Cauvery in Kodagu, he added.
Scores of landslides that destroyed coffee estates and hillside homes in parts of North Kodagu, were a result of deforestation and tourism activities, some locals say. Not long ago, those same sloping hills had a thick forest cover. But illegal tree harvesting by timber smugglers denuded the area, making it ripe for conversion to coffee estates and resorts. The result, experts say, is persistent soil erosion, landslides and floods that are threatening lives and homes. “There is a close correlation between floods and deforestation, as trees act as a sponge that hold soil and water, and help prevent flooding. When trees disappear, the top soil washes away into riverbeds, cutting their water carrying capacity. That, combined with encroachments like new homes built by the edge of waterways, resulted in raging floods and landslides,” said K B Chittiappa, a former head of the college of forestry in Kodagu. In the coffee estates of Kodagu, Chikkamagaluru and Sakleshpur (Hassan), big trees that acted as a flood defence mechanism have made way for the exotic silver oak, whose pole-like trunk fetches high commercial value in a few years.
Kodagu’s deforestation is also driven, in part, by a steep increase in demand for housing, resorts and infrastructure development, as a result of population growth and the expansion of towns. For instance, between 2013 and 2015, for instance, over 50,000 trees were cut in Kodagu to make way for high-tension power lines to Kerala. Illegal resorts started mushrooming in tourist spots in Madikeri, after successive state governments bowed to pressure from the resorts lobby. The conversion of paddy land into housing settlements compounded the problem. “All this happened despite the Gadgil and Kasturirangan committees recommending restrictions on construction activities in ecologically sensitive zones in the Western Ghats, covering the Malnad districts. Neither the state nor the Centre paid heed to our protests,” said S N Girish, a wildlife activist based in Mysuru. “The nexus between local politicians, revenue officials, police and senior bureaucrats has plundered green gold in Kodagu,” he added.
Flooded rivers and parched lakes, Karnataka faces double whammy
Bengaluru: Mismanagement of storage in Cauvery reservoirs is being blamed for floods ravaging Kodagu district of Karnataka even as a majority of lakes in the river basin remain dry. The weatherman’s inability to predict excess rain has complicated things, leaving the plans for storage and release of reservoir water in disarray. “Cauvery reservoirs started getting saturated as early as May-end and mid-June, a rare phenomenon. Ideally, the authorities should have started releasing water from dams in June itself, but they didn’t do so as they wanted to conserve water for difficult days. But unexpected excess rain in the later part of July and August threw their plans out of gear. With water being released in huge quantities at once, there were floods downstream,” said Himamshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People. “The state was receiving good rain after three drought years and officials didn’t want to take any chances, especially when a normal monsoon was forecast,” said irrigation expert Captain Raja Rao. As against an inflow of 40,000 cusecs, Kabini reservoir began receiving 80,000 cusecs last week as its catchment areas in Wayanad region of Kerala received heavy rain. The KRS received 1.2 lakh cusecs, the combined outflow of Hemavathi and Harangi, forcing the authorities to release 2.21 lakh cusecs, a record since 1991 when 2.2 lakh cusecs was released. The increased outflow from Kabini flooded Nanjangud region of Mysuru, while the discharge from Harangi affected Somwartpet and Kushalnagar regions. Heavy rain in Virajpet region pushed up the inflow into Harangi from the usual 10,000 cusecs to 50,000 cusecs. On Sunday, the inflow at Kabini and KRS reduced to 1.15 lakh cusecs and 61,500 cusecs, respectively.
“Hopefully, the flood situation will come under control with the inflow receding. As far as storing water is concerned, our plans were in accordance with the monsoon prediction and there was no other option before us,” said K Jaiprakash, secretary, water resources department. While rivers are overflowing, the irony is that minor irrigation projects, including village tanks, have dried up for want of inflow. With the channels connecting them dysfunctional, very few lakes are receiving water from flooded rivers. The lack of connectivity between major and minor irrigation networks, with operation and maintenance (O&M) of canals pending in many parts and lakes yet to be desilted, is said to be the main reason behind creation of dry areas amid floods. “The contrasting disasters — flood and drought — are not natural. They are manmade,” said Kuruburu Shanthakumar, president of All-India Sugarcane Growers Association. “On the one hand, people are victims of floods, on the other, neighbouring regions are dry with farmers unable to start sowing”. Irrigation officials said O&M works in canals should have been ideally finished by May-end before the onset of monsoon, but with the assembly polls in May, officials were occupied with election duty for over three months and could not focus on departmental works. Works at Visveswaraya Canal, the main canal of KRS, too were hit. HL Prasanna, managing director of Cauvery Niravari Nigam Limited, said: “We took up the O&M works wherever it was possible and most of them are complete”. “The CM has asked us to study and suggest an action plan to avoid the paradox of flood and drought ravaging the state at the same time,” said GC Srinivas Reddy, director of Karnataka Disaster Monitoring Centre.
Chaos after cellar evacuated near mall without barricade
Hyderabad: A case was registered against five people on Sunday for excavating a cellar near Inorbit Mall in Madhapur, without precautionary measures such as barricade, warning signboard and strengthening surrounding areas. Boya Vijaya Laxmi, PVSN Raju, K Rajesh, Suresh Kumar, Satya Prakash and S Lokare have been booked under Section 336 of the IPC. “No arrests have been made so far,” said P Yadaiah Goud, sub-inspector, Madhapur Police Station. K M R Hari, assistant city planner, Gachibowli Circle, Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), said the agency had lodged a complaint against the architect, special engineer and the builder. When a local resident had tweeted about the civic chaos in the area, Municipal Administration and Urban Development (MAUD) minister K T Rama Rao had instructed GHMC to take action. GHMC has also asked the builder to strengthen gravel walls surrounding the site. Harichandana Dasari, zonal commissioner, Serilingampally, GHMC, said they tied ribbons around the dug-up.
Telangana sounds flood alert: 300 pilgrims stranded on AP border, 20 villages cut off
Hyderabad: The official machinery in Telangana has been alerted over flood threat in low-lying areas as incessant rains lashed parts of the state since Saturday night. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has forecast heavy to very heavy rainfall in several districts across the state on Monday. A number of hilly streams and rivulets are in spate and overflowing at a few places disrupting road transport. As many as 20 villages were cut off in Adilabad and Bhadradri-Kothagudem districts due to overflowing seasonal streams. About 300 pilgrims and petty traders were caught in the forest area in the border of AP and Telangana as rivulets suddenly received flash floods cutting of road links. The pilgrims went to Mangamma temple between Aswaraopet in Telangana and Gubbala in AP. A few vehicles parked there were washed away in flood waters. Water entered into open cast coal mines of Singareni Collieries at Kothagudem, Illendu and Manguru towns affecting coal production. Crest gates of several small irrigation projects have been lifted to let out the flood discharge. Srisailam and Nagarjunasagar dams continued to receive heavy inflows. Sriramsagar is also receiving heavy inflows. While the rains raised the hopes of farmers in several districts, heavy downpour in Adilabad and Mahbubabad caused damaged to standing agricultural crops. About five lakh acres of crop has been submerged. An IMD report said the southwest monsoon has been active over Telangana bringing in copious rainfall on Monday too. Rainfall may continue till August 24. Places like Mahbubabad received rainfall as high as 150 mm, the highest recorded in the state on August 19. Garla received 130 mm while Bayyaram received 120 mm of rainfall. Reports of flood water overflowing on bridges and roads have come in from a few places in undivided Warangal, Adilabad and Khammam districts. It rained continuously in many places in Hyderabad on Sunday. Rainfall is expected in the city on Monday too.
CM’s tour of flood-hit areas sparks an idea on rainwater conservation
UNDER WATER: Several houses near the riverbed of Bhavani have been submerged in water after heavy rain.
Erode: The state government is all set to come up with a blueprint to save surplus seasonal rainwater that floods habitations and agricultural land, eventually getting drained into the sea. Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami said on Sunday that a committee comprising retired public works department engineers which was formed three months ago would soon be submitting their report to the state government. “The committee comprising retired chief engineers and superintending engineers has started work. They would identify spots where check dams can be constructed to conserve southwest and northeast monsoon rainwater that get drained into the sea,” EPS said at Pallipalayam after visiting flood-hit areas in Erode and Namakkal. The state government would then construct check dams from the places suggested by the panel. The retired engineers would also study the possibility of linking smaller rivers in the state. EPS said the government has already begun a Rs. 1,000 crore project for construction of check dams across the state as a three-year plan. “In the first phase we have started construction of 62 check dams at a cost of Rs. 292 crores,” he said.
The chief minister, who visited flood-hit areas and the temporary shelters with state electricity minister P Thangamani, said the government will provide houses to the victims. EPS said steps have been taken to build concrete houses to people living along the banks of the Bhavani. “In a phased manner, the government would also take steps to provide houses to those along the Cauvery banks in Namakkal,’’ he said. EPS refuted allegations that there was undue delay in Cauvery water reaching tail-end areas in the delta region. He said farmers in those areas would receive water in one or two days. “The irrigation channels in delta districts could accommodate only 25,500 cusecs, which was released today (Sunday),” he said. EPS said a team of nine IAS officers has been deputed to inspect places that have not received Cauvery water. He said 2 lakh cusecs was released from the Mettur dam into the Cauvery and 15,000 cusecs from the Bhavanisagar dam. “Hence, when the river reaches Pallipalayam, it would be carrying 2.15 lakh cusecs, inundating low-lying areas,’’ he said.
Flood alert sounded in 13 districts of Tamil Nadu
Chennai: In Tamil Nadu, flood alert was sounded for 13 districts, including the Cauvery delta regions, apart from Madurai and Theni as the Periyar and Vaigai dams received copious inflows. Heavy discharges were being made from dams, including Mettur, following inflows from Karnataka. This led to several villages and crops getting inundated along the banks of Cauvery and its tributary Bhavani. Nearly 14,000 people have been shifted to relief camps in different districts so far in the state, officials said. The Coimbatore district administration has closed schools in Valparai as the hill town remained cut off from Coimbatore for the fourth day with landslides leaving the Ghat section blocked. The third flood warning was issued to the people living along the banks of the Vaigai river in Madurai district as the water level in the Vaigai dam touched the 69-feet mark. As 3333 cusecs is being discharged directly into the river bed, people have been asked to move to safer grounds. The dam is reaching its maximum level after nearly a decade.
More earthquakes jolt Indonesia’s Lombok island, trigger landslides
There was no immediate information about damage or casualties.
Sembalun: Strong earthquakes jolted the Indonesian island of Lombok on Sunday, causing power blackouts, landslides and damage to buildings, as the tourist hotspot tries to recover from a temblor earlier this month that killed hundreds of people. A shallow quake on Sunday evening was measured at magnitude 6.9 by the US Geological Survey and followed quakes during the day recorded at magnitudes 6.3 and 5.4. All were centered in the northeast of the island. The evening quake was followed by strong aftershocks. There was no immediate official information about damage or casualties. Kompas TV said there were power blackouts in the north, center and west of the island. Hotel guests in the Seng Gigi resort town on the west of the island were evacuated to parking lots, it said. Dwikorita Karnawatim, who heads Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, said buildings that haven’t collapsed so far have suffered repeated stress, and authorities have urged people to avoid both the mountain’s slopes and weakened buildings. The quake also was felt in the neighboring islands of Bali and Sumbawa. The daytime quakes caused landslides on the slopes of Rinjani, an active volcano, and panic in villages. A magnitude 7.0 quake that struck Lombok on August 5 killed 460 people, damaged tens of thousands of homes and displaced several hundred thousand people. Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago that straddles the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” is prone to quakes and volcanic eruptions.