Late Wednesday, a bunch of traders in Nilambur, a picturesque town famous for timber in north Kerala, rushed towards their shops in the middle of the night in a bid to protect their merchandise from fast-rising floodwaters. It had been pouring all night and if they waited till the next morning, they would suffer massive losses. By Thursday morning, their fears had proven true. A swollen Chaliyar river, that meanders along Nilambur and adjoining villages, flooded the town through tiny tributaries and canals. For the second time in two years, the town was under water.
For many in these villages and towns in north Kerala, the heavy rains, intensified by the presence of a low-pressure area in the Bay of Bengal, bring back painful memories of the 2019 floods and landslides that inflicted chaos in these parts. In two separate landslides last year in Wayanad and Malappuram districts, over 60 people were killed. Some of their bodies are yet to be retrieved from underneath the debris. The extreme rainfall had washed over homes and agricultural lands, killing dozens and displacing over 2 lakh people. For weeks, locals stayed put in hastily-arranged relief camps at schools and mosques as they waited for floodwaters to recede from their homes.
Over the last two days, the nature and magnitude of the rains across the state point to troubling indicators. The Met Department has declared code-red rain alerts in two districts, Kozhikode and Wayanad, for Thursday, warning of extremely heavy rainfall to the tune of above 204 mm.
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In seven other districts, code-orange rain alert has been sounded, with isolated heavy to very heavy rainfall. These conditions are predicted to continue until Sunday.
“Yesterday’s Low pressure area over North Bay of Bengal off West Bengal- Bangladesh coasts now lies as a well-marked low pressure area over Northwest Bay of Bengal adjoining north Odisha and West Bengal coasts and expected to move west north westwards to south Gujarat across Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh during next 3-days. Associated with the above said system, Southwest Monsoon is currently in Active phase over Kerala. Very heavy to Extremely Heavy rainfall is expected during 5th to 9th August over Kerala..,” a special Met bulletin read.
In Nilambur and adjoining panchayats, officials are wasting no time in setting up relief camps to house those living in low-lying areas adjoining rivers and in landslip-prone areas. But unlike last year, such camps have to meet stringent guidelines of Covid-19 protocol.
PV Anvar, the local MLA from Nilambur, said, “We are following the guidelines of the orange book of disaster management released by the government. Each relief camp is divided into four sections: one for women and children, second for those above the age of 60, third for symptomatic persons and the fourth for men without any symptoms.”
As of Thursday afternoon, six such camps with 345 persons were opened across Pothukallu, Edakkara and Karulayi panchayats, all of which were affected heavily in the 2019 deluge.
“Because of Covid-19, a majority of people are hesitant to move to relief camps. They are much more comfortable in the homes of their friends and relatives. That’s why the number is low. Same time last year, we had over 1,500 people in relief camps,” he said.
When asked about the possibility of a repeat of 2019, the MLA said, “We are prepared for any eventuality. We have planned disaster management and rescue operations, keeping that in mind.”
Elsewhere, in districts like Kozhikode and Wayanad, government warnings on the opening of sluice gates in dams are being disseminated through social media platforms in advance. People, residing in flood-prone and landslip-prone areas, are asked to keep emergency kits ready with items like band-aid, ORS packets, sanitary pads, torch, masks, sanitisers and a change of clothes.
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