Tirunelveli has faced some of the heaviest floods over the years. These floods has caused the district huge losses. The land, which is networked by a lot of water bodies, needs proper drainage systems and controls to manage water flow. The major river in the district which usually overflows its banks during heavy rains is the Thamirabarani River. It originates from the hills of the Western Ghats where its most extensive catchment area also lies and discharges into the sea at the Gulf of Mannar. The river is perennial, enjoying the full benefit of the Northeast and Southwest Monsoons. It is heavily recharged by rains from these winds. The floods usually occur when the Northeast Monsoon blows. The river together with its tributaries drains a total area of about 4400 km2.
The Thamirabarani River, though beneficial for power generation and irrigation, has caused a lot of havoc and destruction through floods over the years. One major flood that hit Tirunelveli in 1992 claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed a lot of property. Heavy rains caused some of the dams built across the river to rise above their safe levels, hence had to be released suddenly. Channels created for the river could not hold the overflow.
In July 2005, torrential rains in the Western Ghats caused heavy floods in Alanthuraiyar and Panagudi destroying about 100 houses. Officials attributed the flood to the opening of the shutters of some irrigation tanks. Heavy rains in the village of Kanyakumari also caused serious havoc. All waterfalls at Courtallam and the Kuththarapaanjan falls also overflowed that month.
In November 2006, another flood hit Tirunelveli destroying over 500 acres of paddy field. Heavy rains caused a breach of 6 irrigation tanks in Melaneelithanallur and Kayathar Unions causing this destruction. The villages of North Chezhiyanallur and Keezha Pillaiyarkulam were also badly hit. The village of Vaasagasaalai was totally cut off from mainland.
In November last year (2014), torrential rains in the Western Ghats caused some of the waterfalls to flood catchment communities. The waterfalls that caused the flooding included Manimuthaaru and Paana Theertham falls. The Agasthiar falls also flowed with fury but did not cause any havoc as people were advised not to go near the area. A breach of the Pambankulam tank near Nanguneri occurred, flooding the village of Krishnaputhur. Rainfall recorded in the area during this period was about 165 mm. Other places recorded as high as 190 mm.
Can these floods be stopped, or their effects minimized? Yes. The natural causes of the floods will always be there, but there are proactive ways through which it can be prevented or its force reduced. The first is to ensure proper management and maintenance of flow channels. Also, all encroachments on the channels must be cleared for free flow. Dams, tanks and reservoirs must be assessed before the monsoons, and weak walls/barriers maintained and fortified.
When floods occur, low-lying areas are mostly affected. People living in such areas must be sensitized and advised to move out to higher grounds when rainy seasons approach, to prevent loss of lives and property.