Munnar marks 100 years since devastating ‘flood of 99’, celebrates rebirth with unique souvenir

In July 1924, the 'Great Flood of 99' ripped through the erstwhile princely states of Kerala, leaving a trail of destruction and sorrow.

ByDileep V Kumar

Published Jul 04, 2024 | 2:00 PM Updated Jul 04, 2024 | 2:00 PM

Munnar during the 1924 flood.

Whenever heavy rains batter Kerala, the older generation often reminisces about the “flood in 99” and this July, the state braces itself for a sombre centennial.

A century ago, on this month, a devastating deluge, known as the Great Flood of 99 (referencing the Malayalam calendar year 1099), ripped through the erstwhile princely states of Kerala, leaving a trail of destruction and sorrow.

Even Munnar, the picturesque hill town in the Idukki district perched at a seemingly safe altitude, wasn’t spared.  The relentless floodwaters wreaked havoc on the town, etching a dark chapter in its history.

In a heartfelt tribute, a special souvenir that meticulously documents the resilience, dreams, hard work, and transformative changes that have shaped Munnar over the past century is being released.

The souvenir titled Centennial: 100 Years of Munnar After Flood 1924 to 2024 is curated by Munnar GHS (Government High School)/GHVS (Government Vocational Higher Secondary School) Old Students Association.

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‘An eye-sore’

The cover page of the souvenir.

The first chapter of the souvenir is an excerpt from the book ‘History of The High Range’, published in 1930. In it, the memoir of Violet A Martin is included.

She recounted, “On the night of the 16th (July) the rain was still heavier. People on the eastern side wondered what was happening to their western neighbours. Five of the seven bridges on the main road to the Chundavurrai Estate being lost, we had great difficulty in communicating with Ellapatty and Chittavurra.”

She further added, “On the night of Thursday the 17th of July, the storm had still not abated. The rainfall on Tuesday and Wednesday reached 10 and 12 inches respectively. On those two days, things were becoming more serious.”

Commenting on the sudden rise of water in the town, she stated that the cause was “the natural bund at Mattupatty had at last burst”.

She added, “It had held up a vast amount of water and this suddenly being released came down in a huge mass. At Munnar, it carried away the old Circar bridge on the south side of the Headquarters office, raised the water level over the bazaar four feet, and carried off the old bridge. The skeletons of these bridges remain an eye-sore to us all to this day as we drive around.”

The horrid recounting of Croly Boyd, manager of Parvathi Estate at the time, forms the second chapter of the souvenir.

In it, he remarked, “The year 1924 will long be remembered in the history of the High Range for it was in July of that year that the district was visited by disastrous rains which caused many deaths and much damage.”

He added, “I cannot recall whether it was that day or the next that the Pullivasal powerhouse was damaged and so cutting off all power and light in the district but I know that for a long time, we were dependent on candles and the odd hurricane lantern.”

Mentioning the scars left by the rains, Croly stated, “I shall never forget the noise of the wind and the rain as it beat down on the corrugated iron roof. Indeed, my wife and I for years afterward could not get rid of the sound and even an ordinary downpour set us on edge.”

Also Read: Has Munnar learnt from the flood that obliterated it a century ago?

The damage

According to MJ Babu, president of Munnar GHS/GVHSS Old Students Association, the 1924 floods changed the history of Munnar.

“The collapse of the top station railway line and the collapse of the then Aluva-Munnar road were because of the ’99 flood. Munnar also suffered the most damage,” said Babu in the chapter ’99 Flood.

Munnar railway bridge damaged in the 1924 flood

He further added, “As per official information, in Devikulam taluk alone 110 people have died. In Peerumedu, 22 bullock cart drivers lost their lives. 40 members of a family lost their lives in a landslide. According to reports, one-third of Travancore was submerged. More than a thousand persons died. It is said that along with the waters came tiger, leopard and elephant.”

It is said that from 15 to 25 July, 1924, Munnar recorded 2023.2 mm of rainfall.

Meanwhile, he also remarked that as the disaster was not properly documented, the actual picture of the damage it caused is not known.

However, it was documented that for relief operations Mahatma Gandhi came directly. It is learnt that Gandhi through a series of articles imparted the severity of the flood and the trial of destruction it was causing.

He also initiated a relief fund collection as in one such article he stated, “None should ask how much money would be needed. The more the merrier is the rule which applies here.”

Also Read: Kerala advocates new dam in Mullaperiyar to ensure safety of people

The souvenir

Congratulating the association for coming out with a souvenir like this, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, in his message, noted that the Great Flood of 1924, a catastrophe referred to as the “Flood of ’99”, took many precious lives and reshaped landscapes, leaving its indelible impact on Munnar.

Cover of the souvenir

At the same time, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in his message noted that ‘the impact of this tragedy is greater than what is known.’

The most important of these is the damage caused to Munnar. The train service at Munnar, formerly known as the Kundala Valley Railway, became a memory with this tragedy,” the chief minister said.

Meanwhile Babu, in his introduction noted: “It is a souvenir marking the achievements and losses of 100 years from 1924 to 2024.”

He added that the souvenir, consisting of 35 chapters, in English, Malayalam, Tamil, and Hindi, has meticulously documented the resilience, dreams, hard work, and transformative changes that have shaped Munnar over the past century.

“The souvenir serves as a testament to the town’s enduring spirit and the ability to rise from the ruins of disaster to become a symbol of hope and progress,” he said.

(Edited by Muhammed Fazil)

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