On the night of August 15, Thajudeen TV woke up to loud knocking on his door. Members of ten families who lived around him in the hilly Puduppadi panchayat in Kerala’s Kozhikode were seeking shelter. The entire neighbourhood was flooded, save for Thajudeen’s home, perched high on a hillside. As the water started entering their homes, residents made way to Thajudeen’s, leaving all their belongings behind. He made place for the women and children inside his house and stretched a tarpaulin across his verandah for the men to wait out the stormy night.
Thajudeen is a jeep driver. His life and work are not often affected by bad weather. But this monsoon has been different. On Thursday, all his attempts to get into Kozhikode city, about an hour’s drive away, proved futile. He had to turn his jeep around seven times after hitting water-inundated roads.
Though he can drive his jeep through four feet of water, Thajudeen did not want to take the chance lest the roads and bridges he had to cross were suddenly washed away. Over the past week, among other disasters, he has seen a part of a highway come tumbling down the side of a hill.
Further down that same hill, along the Kandapakund stream that runs past the town of Thamarassery, Thajudeen pointed to a vehicle buried under silt. A few days ago, the stream breached its banks, stretching out on either side to twice its width, and destroying a large number of homes.
P Bijuraj, deputy superintendent of police in Thamarassery, was at the site of the damage. “One person was killed by the landslide in the town,” he said, adding that since the stream is still overflowing, “people along the banks have been evacuated”.
This area has been the worst affected part of Kozhikode district, the residents explained, because the hills act like giant funnels, channeling all the rain and floodwater down where it causes the greatest damage.
“Since April 1, we have seen 542 cm of rain,” said Sabu P Sam, an estate manager with Cottanad Plantations in the area. “Yesterday was 21 cm and day before was 18 cm. We have never seen rain like this and we have been recording rainfall in our own gauges everyday for over 30 years.”
Kerala’s annual average rainfall is 310.7 cm while India’s is 119.7 cm.
Sabu, Thajudeen and other residents are worried food in their homes and at local markets will run out in a few days. For now, though, they have enough food at home and, they said, some shops are still stocked.
Azad Cherian Illam Palliyil grows rubber and areca nut in the area. He has lost over 60 trees and a road on his estate, but hopes to get compensation from the agricultural department.
He depends on local workers to tap the rubber trees and on migrant labourers from Jharkhand and Bengal for manual labour on his plantation. “The workers who shop for food on a daily basis are going to be the worst hit,” said Cherian. “They may need a lot of support very soon.”
Ajikal Sikh from Kolkata works as a mason in Kalpetta in the neighbouring Wayanad district. But with the entire town under water, Sikh decided to go home to his wife, two children and parents. On Thursday he took a bus with four other Bengali workers to Mysore, from where he planned to take a train to Chennai and onwards to Kolkata. “My employers have sent me home for a month, because no construction is expected to happen for at least another 30 days,” he said. “I will have to find work around Kolkata in the meantime.”
City in crisis
In Kozhikode city, meanwhile, the authorities have warned of imminent flooding in Nadakkave, Eranhipalam and other neighbourhoods near the overflowing Canoly Canal. Jaffar Khan Colony, Muthappankaavu, Cherooty Nagar are already under water, and their residents are stranded. The canal, constructed in 1848, is supposed to drain excess water into the Arabian sea but it is not doing so fast enough to prevent flooding. PT Rahman, a lawyer from Rajeev Nagar, which is close to Canoly Canal, said, “In my apartment complex, water comes up to the neck in the basement. It does not seem to flow out and it has been the same for the last 24 hours.”
In the city, the floodwaters started rising after the shutters of Kakkayam and Peruvannamuzhi dams, both over 40 km away, were opened on the evening of August 14. In all, Kerala has been forced to open the gates of 33 of its 39 dams, causing devastation downstream. So far, over a 110 people have been confirmed killed.
In the hilly outskirts of the city such as Thiruvambadi and Anakkampoyil, the situation has been compounded by landslides and flashfloods. The authorities have advised people against going to Tusharagiri falls, about 40 km from the city.
The University of Calicut has postponed its exams, as has the State Education Board.
A pall of gloom has descended on the city, which was readying to celebrate the ongoing Onam festival. With the rain showing no signs of relenting, it will take a while for the town to limp back to normal life.