Hyderabad: The night of 13 October 2020 will probably never be forgotten by Hyderabad. Lashed by light rains for at least a week before, Hyderabad was hammered by a rare spell of heavy October showers over several hours Tuesday.
What began as light showers through the morning picked up intensity by evening and the heavy rains continued overnight, leaving many people dead and several parts of the city submerged.
Hyderabad is estimated to have received around 200 mm of rain on 13 October, which breaks the city’s 100-year record for a 24-hour spell in October.
Scores of people continue to be evacuated from their homes by 19 teams of the city’s Disaster Response Force (DRF), which have been on the ground since the evening of the 13th. In Nadeem Colony, one of the first areas to get flooded, boats were brought in by the DRF to rescue people after most houses got flooded.
According to Vishwajit Kampati, the director for enforcement, vigilance and disaster management in the DRF, around 10 boats were deployed across the city for rescue operations.
Teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) have also been on the ground. The force said in a statement Wednesday that it had rescued more than 40 stranded people and evacuated 1,165 people. The Army also carried out relief and rescue operations in the Bandlaguda area on the state government’s request.
According to estimates from the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC), which oversees the main city and a few areas in the surrounding districts, as many as 122 colonies and 20,540 houses could have been impacted by inundation.
The number could be higher, considering more colonies got flooded the next day after several lakes overflowed in Hyderabad, said a GHMC official.
Telangana’s K. Chandrashekar Rao government has estimated that the rains and ensuing flash floods have caused losses to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore across the state. Other districts affected include Warangal, Medchal-Malkajgiri, RangaReddy (parts of Medchal-Malkajgiri and RangaReddy come under GHMC), Nalgonda, and Yadadri.
A press release issued by the chief minister’s office Thursday evening said the rains had killed 11 people in Hyderabad. Earlier, however, the Hyderabad mayor had pegged the figure at “easily 20”.
Experts say the impact of the rains, which have wrought tragedy on many families, has been exacerbated by human activities, especially constructions in the catchment areas of the city’s lakes.
Lives washed away
Shovan, a 32-year-old from Rajasthan who came to Hyderabad over 20 years ago and lives with his family of eight, saw his makeshift hut washed away by the rain. His entire collection of idols, which he makes for a living, got washed away too. He was sure that night, he said, that his life is over.
“I did not know what was happening. I managed to save my two-year-old from going away with that gush of water,” he said. “I lost everything that night — we came towards the other side of the road to save our lives. I sat on the footpath with my kids that whole night despite the rains. We felt our time has come to leave this world,” he told ThePrint.
Shovan’s hut was located near a bridge in the Chaderghat area — one of the prime locations in the city that is usually bustling with traffic as it is a connecting point to several other semi-commercial areas such as Dilsukhnagar and Malakpet.
A section of that massive bridge, a connecting road, was submerged the next day too.
The deaths in the city include a postman, whose body was found 48 hours after he went missing Tuesday. He had stepped out to deliver letters.
“We are collecting data from different zones but the estimation is that there could have been 20 deaths easily,” said Hyderabad Mayor Bonthu Rammohan. “A few minutes ago, I got a call saying another person died due to an electric shock after some water got stagnant in their apartment at Moosarambagh.”
At Mailardevpally, in the older part of the city, a man named Syed Janiul Abeddin saw nine members of his family get washed away after the nearby Palle Cheruvu lake overflowed. Six of them are still missing, while two were found dead at the nearby Falaknuma bridge. The ninth family member, his father-in-law Taher Qureshi, was found alive at the bridge.
Amjed Ullah Khan, a politician associated with the local party Majlis Bachao Tehreek, shared Abeddin’s ordeal on social media.
Nine persons of a single family drown in Mailardevpally area, Two bodies recovered, One survived, Six are still missing pic.twitter.com/t24n2lIEzz
— Amjed Ullah Khan MBT (@amjedmbt) October 14, 2020
“We were all sitting on the pavement in front of our gate, when, suddenly, the water flow increased and, within seconds, my entire family got washed away,” Abeddin is heard saying in a video posted by Khan. “My brother jumped to save me, he also went away with the flow of the water… I could see my grandchildren getting washed away.”
Abeddin himself was carried away by the gushing waters, but was saved by some local residents.
In another incident, around eight people, including a two-month old infant, died after a huge boulder fell on their houses in old city’s Bandlaguda area Tuesday night.
There were 55 building/wall collapses in the Greater Hyderabad limits between 9 and 14 October.
The worst affected colonies were largely those that are closer to the catchment areas of lakes in the city, mostly in the old part. At least half of the Tolichowki area, where Nadeem Colony is located, was still submerged 24 hours after the rain.
The areas affected include Ahmed Colony, Balreddy Nagar, Hakeempet Kunta, and colonies close to the Golconda area. Among other parts of the city, Kompally, Secunderabad and Vanasthalipuram experienced flooding Wednesday.
A few of these areas, in the older part of Hyderabad, were subsequently toured by Municipal Minister K.T. Rama Rao and Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi.
Many parts of the city experienced blackouts after the heavy winds and rains damaged power infrastructure and caused an outage. According to the government-owned Telangana State Southern Power Distribution Company Limited (TSSPDCL), out of the total 2,927 feeders in the GHMC limits, 686 were impacted.
TSSPDCL Director Srinivasa Reddy told ThePrint that power was restored in 90 per cent of the areas by Thursday morning.
Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao convened a high-level meeting Thursday to review the losses. In a statement issued later, the chief minister’s office said KCR has written to PM Modi, seeking Rs 1,350 crore in immediate assistance.
The CMO said, overall, the rains have claimed 50 lives all over Telangana. The government has announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for families of those killed. The CMO statement added that new houses will be built for families who lost theirs in the rains, with financial aid for the people whose homes sustained partial damage.
In a relief to the people of the city, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted no rainfall for Thursday and Friday. For Saturday and Sunday, the IMD has warned of thunderstorms accompanied by lightning in isolated parts of the state.
The IMD has attributed the current spell of rains to a deep depression in the Bay of Bengal, which moved to Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh and then to Telangana.
Experts describe the devastation caused by the rains as a man-made disaster, citing encroachments that they say have disturbed the infrastructure put in place during the Nizam’s time to regulate water flow. Lack of a proper channel to discharge stormwater, and choked and incomplete drains, also played a role, they add.
“This is completely a man-made disaster — rains should have been a blessing, but now they’re a nightmare. From the Nizam’s time, the city always had proper chain-linked channels of inflow and outflow from the north and south basin of the city. That has been majorly disturbed over the years. There are encroachments on waterbed areas,” said activist Lubna Sarawath.
“Even posh areas have buildings that are built on some sort of a lake bed, so it is not just the slums. There are government-supervised constructions on lake beds. Lakes are becoming shallow after garbage-, debris-dumping. When you disturb the cascading flow, this is what happens. You cannot command the water how to flow…” she added.
Many parts of Hyderabad also experienced flooding in 2016 after heavy rains lashed the Telangana capital.
At the time, KCR said the government had identified around 28,000 illegal structures and encroachments on stormwater drains and lake beds in the GHMC limits.
The GHMC has since struggled with clearing these constructions, which are obstructing the free flow of rainwater, resulting in flooding.
In a tweet Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he had spoken to the chief ministers of both Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, which has also been lashed by heavy rains, and assured them of help from the central government.
This report has been updated with additional information