With at least 18 deaths in Munnar alone in the heavy flooding from Mattuppetti dam and landslides, the famed tourist destination in Kerala was perhaps the worst affected area in Idukki, one of the most impacted districts in the recent floods.
Almost all major roads and bridges connecting Munnar, in the Western Ghats, with other parts were damaged, and Munnar was completely cut off for the last 10 days.
By Sunday, the district administration managed to restore connectivity between Munnar and Ernakulam after dozens of landslides between Neriamangalam, in Ernakulam district, and Munnar left traffic blocked since August 12. Remains of cars, buried under landslides, could still be found even as the hill town struggled to make a comeback: by Monday afternoon, only a few street vendors were at work, shops remained partially opened, and most cellphone networks were down.
Most hotels and resorts also remained closed.
A kilometre from Munnar town, the dog Blackey, which helped save at least five lives by barking nonstop minutes before a heavy landslide hit a village in the early hours of August 16, lay sick. A house with four people were destroyed in the landslide, killing the occupants.
Recounting the incident, Taiju, who had come that day to visit relatives in the vicinity, said, “Around 3 am on August 16, Blackey’s unusually loud barking woke us up. Minutes later, the landslide hit Satheesh’s house. His mother slept in a small hut outside, and had come out along with another family due to Blackey’s warning through barking (and were saved).”
Satheesh (40), who worked with a private firm in Munnar, wife Lakshmi (38) and their two little children could not escape. Eleven days on, the site where Santosh’s house stood lay scattered with household goods.
After the incident, Taiju said, Blackey fell sick.
About 3 km from Munnar town, a huge mountain was washed away by the surging water, falling about 300 meters below in the river. The flooding also destroyed the campus and building of Munnar Government Arts College. No casualty was reported there.
Saidu Muhammed, who runs a hotel in Munnar, said unprecedented showers right from the onset of monsoon had already derailed the economy of the town that depends largely on tourism. “And then the heavy rain during Onam spoiled business further. There are more than 500 lodges, resorts and hotels in Munnar alone, and business worth several crores have been lost this season. I haven’t opened the hotel for 15 days,” Saidu said.
He said 10 staff members working at his hotel are now leaving for their homes – in Assam – for a 15-day break.
A road connecting Munnar with Marayoor and Udumalpet in Tamil Nadu will not be opened any time soon as Periyavarai bridge developed a major crack. Last week, Kerala Electricity Minister M M Mani, who comes from Idukki district, had said that the government will seek the Army’s help to build a Bailey bridge – a portable, prefabricated (and mostly temporary) bridge.
P K Shaji, tehsildar of Devikulam, a hill station about 10 km southwest from Munnar, told The Indian Express that the government has decided to start construction of the bridge from Tuesday. He said: “The PWD, and not the Army, will start the work. At least 18 people died in the area…. It was unprecedented – rain data registered over 200 mm rain in a single stretch after the heavy downpour started on August 4. The flood situation worsened by August 10, and sank the town.”
After the flood, the delayed Neelakurinji flowering season due to heavy rain is expected to hit the tourism sector harder in Munnar. The industry had expected over 10 lakh visitors to see the rare purplish-blue phenomenon, which occurs once in 12 years.
Parvez Ahmed, a Kashmiri man who works at a handicraft showroom in Old Munnar town, said his shop had the last customer on July 26 – “an Arabic woman purchased two Kashmiri shawls,” he said. Old Munnar was the worst part of the town after Mattuppetti dam shutters were opened. While Ahmed was able to move all items in his shop to a safer place, most shops in Old Munnar suffered severe losses as the water level, on average, was above three feet.
At Munnar government bus depot, local residents said, water went “up to the height of windshields of buses” parked there.
Munnar’s hanging bridge destroyed in deluge
Margaret Bridge or the hanging bridge in Old Munnar town, a 70-metre bridge built in 1942 by the British that sways towards either side, was one of the casualties of deluge that hit the tourist town this month. The bridge, made of iron pillars and wooden planks, was mainly used by local residents to cross the Muthirapuzha river across old Munnar town and Chokkanad Estate. P Kumar, who runs a hotel nearby and suffered severe losses in the flood that destroyed a portion of his hotel, said, “The bridge was a landmark. It was used by my late father in his teenage years, and by me during my school days. This saddens me more than the damage to the building,” he said. —Arun Janardhanan