Chitra and Selvi, of Srivaikuntam taluk in Tamil Nadu’s Thoothukudi district, have settled into a grim routine since December 17. That was the day disaster struck them, when a sudden bout of unprecedented rains left their homes in Theppakulam village completely inundated with water, forcing them to seek refuge in the relief camp set up at the Theppakulam High School nearby. Everyday since, they have waded through the waterlogged roads and walked to their houses at Gandhinagar Street, hoping to find them in an inhabitable state, only to realise that the floodwater that invaded their homes remains stubbornly stuck at their chest level, denying them entry.
The situation in Theppakulam is dire; numerous streets still remain submerged, and floodwater stands at a height of at least 2-3 feet in many houses. Hundreds in the area have now taken shelter at the Theppakulam High School, waiting for the day they can return to the comfort of their homes.
As TNM met Chitra and Selvi at Gandhinagar Street, returning from one of their daily trips, Selvi briefed us about the current situation. “Only the first two houses in this lane are accessible, water reaches our chest level beyond that. It has been a scary time. My neighbour’s house collapsed. If the situation persists, mine may follow suit,” she said.
Residents recalled the intense downpour of December 17, and their harrowing escape to the only two-storeyed house in the area. Until the rescue boats arrived, most of them had sat on the terrace of that house and waited, left with no time to retrieve belongings.
Many shared with regret the loss of their domestic animals. “We saw some goat carcasses floating down the roadside. I had 10 goats and 15 chickens, but all may be lost now. I am unable to even go to my house and check,” said Chitra.
“It’s been five days. Can’t someone come and help us? Why not use a motor to pump out the water from our homes? Nothing is being done. They make these promises during elections, but when we seek help from the Collector's office, they tell us that we have food and shelter, so the rest will take time,” she added.
Maria, a single mother who used to live in one of the catchment areas of Thamirabarani river in Srivaikuntam, recounted how her tiny house had succumbed to the force of encroaching floodwaters in the wee hours of December 17. As she swiftly waded through the rising waters with her three children – aged five, four, and one – Maria had caught a glimpse of the wall behind her house collapsing. As dawn broke, they found refuge in a temple mandapam (auditorium) nearby with several other villagers. It was only later that she learnt about the extent of the deluge she had saved herself and her children from. The water had submerged three-fourths of their home, rising up to more than 6.5 feet.
Maria and her children, along with around 200 people in Gurus Kovil Street, spent a day and a night at the mandapam with neither sustenance nor solace. When the waters finally receded the next afternoon, they returned to a scene of utter devastation — homes ravaged, possessions lost. “Everything was gone, we have no clothes, nothing left,” she told TNM.
Gurus Kovil Street was one of the most affected areas in Srivaikuntam. At least 10 houses were fully destroyed, while almost 25 houses were partially damaged and rendered unlivable. Many other houses need major repairs.
While the water has now receded in most parts of Srivaikuntam, electricity is yet to be restored in any of the flood-hit regions. Much of the critical infrastructure has taken a hit, including the government hospital, godowns, magistrate court, and offices. Since December 17, the entire taluk has been engulfed in darkness, forcing them to survive under candlelight.
Distressed by the sudden onset of floods, residents express anger at the lack of prior warning. “Water came like a tsunami; we couldn't even grab extra clothes for our kids. Why weren't we warned?” asked 60-year-old Benita Mary from Gurus Kovil.
St. James Matriculation School, located in the region, stands as a testament to the devastation caused by the floods. “We would have been more cautious if there had been an earlier announcement. Now everything in the school has been destroyed,” said the school’s principal.
Chief Minister MK Stalin had recently criticised the India Meteorological Department (IMD) for failing to issue timely warnings about the extreme rainfall that battered four southern districts in the state. The agency had issued a red alert only two days after the downpour began, he alleged.
But many question the absence of authorities in the area after the disaster struck, at least for relief measures. Pichayya, another resident of Gurus Kovil, pointed out that no government officials or representatives have even enquired about their well-being or provided any help since the incident. “Neither our MLA nor any local authorities showed up,” he said.