Kerala is experiencing what is said to be its "worst flood in a century". The current turmoil brings back collective memories of June 1924, where the heavy flooding had left Periyar river in a state of despair for three weeks. The 1924 incident is commonly referred to as the “Great Flood of 99”, as it occurred in the year 1099 according to the Malayalam Calendar. The torrential downpour caused the hill, once known as Karinthiri, to erode completely, and left the town of Munnar submerged in water. Here is everything you need to know about the 1924 floods.
What caused the flooding?
The last week of July 1924, witnessed an increase in both rainfall and wind speed. There is a widespread consensus among the older generation of Kerala that a breach of the Mullaperiyar Dam had prompted the floods. The breach occurred just 29 years after the dam was built. At the time, there were said to be no other dams in the region, implying that there could have been no other cause for such destructive floods.
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Nevertheless, there is very little evidence to support this claim, especially when taking into consideration the previous torrents that Kerala has experienced prior to the dam’s construction.
Which areas were affected?
The total cumulative rainfall over the three weeks was said to be 3,368 mm. Most districts in the former Travancore and Cochin states experienced flooding, and so did parts of the Malabar region. Thrissur, Ernakulam, Idukki and Kottayam faced substantial damage. The floodwaters managed to overthrow the Kundala Valley Railway, a narrow-gauge railway line in Munnar, and the road to Munnar had disappeared owing to landslides.
Several church buildings were destroyed, which meant that the present-day church records only start from 1924.
How many casualties were there?
While official records are not available, the death toll of the Great Flood of 99 is believed to be around 1,000. On top of this, the floods killed a number of livestock.
What was the aftermath?
Once the flooding subsided, constructing an alternate route from Ernakulam to Munnar became an urgent priority. British surveyor, Mr. Valentine, oversaw this new alignment. The road was completed by 1931 and was inaugurated by Regent Queen Sethu Lakshmi Bayi on March 31, 1931.
The inauguration ceremony took place at Ranikkallu, near Nerjamangalam. In the years that followed, the affected localities underwent a momentous transformation. Idukki, in particular, has withstood large-scale encroachment on the riverbanks. Idukki happens to be a quake-zone, however, and has received warnings about any impending threats. In 2017, the assembly committee backed the immediate removal of over 100 illegal constructions in the district. A majority of the illicit buildings were located in the valleys and hills of Munnar and its neighbouring areas.
Kerala is routinely criticised for being underprepared for such disasters. The state does not have a binding unit within the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF). On top of this, though the Central Water Commission (CWC) has flood monitoring sites in Kerala, it reportedly does not implement any flood forecasting systems in the state, which only heightens its vulnerability.