‘Historic’ rains claim 10 lives; Wasn’t sufficiently forewarned by IMD, says Tamil Nadu government

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, too, pointed to inaccuracies in predictions by IMD on quantum of rains.

BySouth First Desk

Published Dec 20, 2023 | 12:52 PMUpdatedDec 20, 2023 | 2:18 PM

Relief operations in South Tamil Nadu

Unprecedented rains that battered south Tamil Nadu claimed 10 lives and brought the region to a standstill, leaving individuals, families, and a trainload of people stranded for days.

While there was a brief respite from the incessant downpour on Tuesday, 19 December, collaborative efforts from the Defence, national, and state disaster response forces took the lead in executing rescue and relief operations.

Indicating that the state was not sufficiently forewarned of what was coming, Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary Shiv Das Meena said on Tuesday that the forecast of heavy rainfall by the India Meteorological Department was “wrong” as extremely heavy rainfall was received in the affected districts within a short period of two days.

On Tuesday, the Minister for Milk and Dairy Development, Mano Thangaraj, also raised questions on the performance of the IMD. The minister said it was time to also reflect on collective response to natural disasters.

In his letter to the Union government, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin also pointed to inaccuracies in predictions by IMD on the quantum of rains.

Also Read: Chief Minister Stalin seeks more funds from Centre; BJP calls out ‘MissingCM’

‘Wrong’ prediction

“Ten people have died in Tirunelveli and Tuticorin districts due to the rainfall. While some lost their lives due to wall collapse, some died due to electrocution,” Stalin told reporters at the Secretariat, in Chennai.

Observing that the forecast by the IMD turned out to be “wrong”, he said and added, “The IMD had predicted isolated to heavy, very heavy to extreme rainfall may occur in one or two places. This is what the forecast said. But Kayalpattinam (a municipality in Tuticorin district) received 115 cm rainfall in two days.”

He said southern districts, particularly Tirunelveli and Tuticorin, witnessed record rainfall and flooding that was unprecedented and historic.

Taking to X on the issue, Mano Thangaraj, stated, “…it is crucial to reflect on both the performance of our Meteorological Department and our collective response to such natural disasters.”

He added, “While the Tamil Nadu government has exerted considerable effort to manage this crisis, there is always room for improvement. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the unforeseen severity and impact of these events could have been mitigated with more precise and timely forecasts from the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).”

Related: Minister Mano Thangaraj questions performance of IMD

Time discrepancies 

One of the key issues Thangaraj identified is the time discrepancy in the weather alerts. “The gap between the issuance of the Red Alert and the actual flooding was much shorter than what could have been ideal as some Western models exhibit in those countries,” he wrote.

He stated that the critical delay in the forecasting system underscored the need for more immediate and accurate weather alerts.

Thangaraj believes that the recent floods serve as a stark reminder of the escalating climate crisis, a global issue that now directly affects India. “Urgent action from the Union government is called for,” he wrote.

“It’s imperative for the Union Government to reconfigure their approach and take proactive steps. Upgrading our forecasting models and communication systems is essential. We must be better equipped to predict and manage such calamities, reducing their devastating effects,” Thangaraj noted.

“Our response to the climate crisis must be swift, effective, and reflect the seriousness of the situation. It’s a time for collective responsibility and action, and we are committed to facing this challenge together,” he said.

Tamil Nadu floods: 39 places recorded extremely heavy rainfall

Rescue operations

A coordinated effort helped tackle one of the biggest challenges ahead of the state — to rescue train passengers stuck in the coastal Thoothukudi district. All the 809 train passengers stranded in the heavily flooded Srivaikuntam were rescued on Tuesday, the Southern Railway said.

They were taken to nearby Vanchi Maniyachchi Railway Station, from where a special train was set to take them to Chennai.

The Chief Secretary said nearly 1,343 personnel from Central and state government agencies, including the Navy, Air Force, NDRF, and SDRF, were involved in the rescue and relief operation work across the southern parts of the state.

“To date, we have set up 160 relief camps, and about 17,000 people have been accommodated in these relief camps. About 34,000 food packets have been supplied to people, and even now, we cannot reach some villages as the water level is yet to recede,” he said.

Nine helicopters were involved in relief work, and through them, 13,500 kg of food was supplied to stranded victims. “There is also a possibility for one more helicopter to join the rescue operation,” he said.

Chennai rains: Chief Minister Stalin visits flood relief camp

Request for more help

Earlier, Chief Minister Stalin urged the Union government on Tuesday morning to deploy the maximum number of choppers. Writing to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Stalin said as of Tuesday morning, four Air Force helicopters, two helicopters each from the Navy and Coast Guard, were deployed to rescue stranded people and drop food items for those marooned.

The state government said that ministers and senior highway officials are on the ground to restore road links. Several regions continue to be cut off in view of blocked roads and highways, and such places can be reached only by boats, which is a challenge.

In view of the strong water current in several regions, even boats could not be used, and hence, in such places, “we rely on helicopters to deliver food to people”.

According to the state government, only after the flood water recedes can a complete damage assessment be done, and road-network restoration work could be taken up in full swing by the National Highways Authority of India and state highways.

As many as 133 mobile medical teams are ready to render requisite healthcare services, including examination of people rescued from flood-hit regions, officials said.

Review meeting by Governor Ravi

In a meeting headed by the state governor RN Ravi at the Raj Bhavan in Chennai on Tuesday evening, some agencies raised concerns about the absence of coordination in the deployment of personnel and a “lack of appreciation” of the overall situation in the affected districts. Due to this, such agencies “have no clear idea” about the exact resource requirements and priorities in deployment.

Ravi told them to mobilise additional resources and assured them that he would also facilitate additional resources from Central agencies.

The meeting was held to review the present situation and ongoing rescue and relief operations, to bring about better coordination, and to mobilise additional resources for the rescue and relief efforts in the flood-affected areas in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu.

State government representatives skipped the meeting chaired by the Governor.

No official from the state government attended the meeting, though a “request was sent to the Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu”, to send a representative to the meeting, a Raj Bhavan release said.

Related: Tamil Nadu government boycotts Governor Ravi’s review meet


Meanwhile, on social media platforms, another storm was brewing as the hashtag “MissingCM” targeting Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin trended on the social media platform X on Tuesday. Most handles using the hashtag were ridiculing the Chief Minister for attending the opposition INDIA bloc meeting in the national capital rather than visiting the flood-hit places in the state.

The #MissingCM @mkstalin started by BJP Tamil Nadu @BJP4Tamilnadu trended as the party supporters began to post messages flaying the Chief Minister for choosing to attend the alliance meeting rather than visit the flood-hit people in the southern districts.

Stalin had earlier on Tuesday announced that he would visit Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli on 20 December.