Grey clouds hang low as the Periyar river snakes through the forest green hills. As one drives from the Neriyamangalam town in Ernakulam district to the Cheruthoni town in Idukki district, just 40 km away, most of the roads are deserted. Only the odd tea shop or two are open. At certain vantage points along this uphill drive, people gather to see the swollen Periyar river.
At Cheruthoni town, a large crowd is gathered to watch the river in spate. Many have come from nearby towns to watch the spectacle. The five shutters of the Cheruthoni dam were opened on Friday morning and by noon the town bridge was fully submerged. The Cheruthoni market lies on one side of the river and the shops closest to the river remained shut on Saturday. A little away from the river is Altaf's textile shop 'Seema Readymades'. Though it was shut on Friday, authorities allowed him to open it on Saturday.
"It has come as a relief for me. On Friday, all of us lost business. Actually no one knows how much the water will rise, seems the police don't want to take any chances," Altaf said.
But there has been no such relief for Thoufeeq, who runs a fast food shop just metres away from the river. "The dam shutters are still open. Apparently, there is prediction of more rain, so we are not sure when we can resume business," he says.
A rope has been drawn to cordon off the small road leading to the Cheruthoni river. Police officials and three members of the newly commissioned Women Commando Force of the Kerala Police stand guard to ensure that no one enters the road. Josnimol, who is part of the battalion says 12 of them have been posted in 4 districts of Kerala. Aiding the local police in crowd control is their current job.
Over the years, many have built houses in places where the river used to flow years ago. Many of these are encroachments were sanctioned by the panchayat itself. It is these houses that have been affected the most. All of them have evacuated their houses and are now living in relief camps or with family members.
Sunitha, whose house is on the hill, has been unaffected by the rains. But her cousin had to move to a relief camp on Thursday. "They live right on the banks. Many years ago, the river used to flow there, but when the river's flow abated, people started constructing houses there. But this time, they were one of the first to be affected," she explains.
A five-floored building stands right on the banks of the river. It belongs to a local Congressman AP Usman, and despite the Revenue Department giving stop memo to halt construction, the owner got a stay from court. "This building was supposed to be demolished, but the owner is a politician and no one could touch it. These encroachments too have affected the river's flow," says NR Madhavan, a resident of Cheruthoni.
A ground report from Cheruthoni in Idukki pic.twitter.com/SV23zj6iapâ€” Dhanya Rajendran (@dhanyarajendran) August 11, 2018