Five members of a family, including two toddlers, reportedly drowned in the Bhavani river after they were caught in a sudden current due to the release of water from the Pilloor dam, at Mettupalayam on Wednesday.
The water was only knee-deep when the family entered the river for a quick dip and to wash clothes. However, tragedy struck after the Pilloor Dam, located nearly 20 km upstream, was opened, suddenly increasing the water current and level in the river. By the time the family noticed something amiss and tried to wade their way to the banks, it was too late.
While B Ravichandran (55) managed to reach the banks, the rest of his family, including his wife R Rani Bai (42) and daughters Rajeswari (25) and Janani (18) were swept away in the sudden surge. Rajeshwari’s two daughters Peppy (3) and Nicky (2) were also not spared.
“We were sitting on the rocks in the middle of the river. Around noon, we felt the water levels rising. Even as we started for the banks, carrying the two children, a sudden surge washed us away,” recalled a visibly shaken Ravichandran.
In the meantime, a few local residents in the vicinity heard their cries and managed to fish out Rani Bai, Rajeswari and Peppy within 45 minutes. However, all three of them succumbed en route the hospital.
Nearly six hours later, two-year-old Nicky’s body was found stuck between some rocks near the banks around a kilometre away. Firefighters are searching downstream to trace Janane’s body.
Around 6,000 cusecs of water were released from the dam on Wednesday to feed its power generation plants, electricity board officials later confirmed. However, they admitted that there was no system in place to alert those living along the banks downstream when water is released from the dam.
“We sounded the sirens in the three hamlets located close to the dam. But, there is no system to alert people in Mettupalayam and other downstream areas,” TANGEDCO superintendent engineer Sekar said.