1908 floods: When the Musi rose

By J.S. Ifthekhar  Published on  26 Sep 2019 11:34 AM GMT
1908 floods: When the Musi rose

Hyderabad: The most helpful thing about a storm is that it eventually stops. However, when it ended on September 28, 1908, it had wreaked the worst havoc. As far as the eye could see, there was a trail of death and destruction. The south of Hyderabad presented a scene of twisted, tilted, ripped and battered homes. In locality after locality, there was a vista of collapsed houses, blown tin-roofs, and uprooted trees. Corpses and carcasses floated in the floodwaters.

That was the grim scene a day after the great Musi flood hit Hyderabad, killing close to one lakh people and destroying thousands of houses. The heavy rains in the last few days have evoked memories of “thughyani” which Hyderabadis still tremble to recall. Following the massive destruction caused by the floods, the month of September is viewed as a bad omen. Old Hyderabadis prefer to call the month “sitamgar”, meaning tormentor.

By now, this great disaster has become folklore. For weather forecasters, it is handy as a reference point to gauge heavy rains. Put the clock back by a century, 111 years ago to be precise. The catastrophic events were set in motion on September 26 with Hyderabad experiencing sharp showers. As night came, the skies opened up. Rain pounded the city, and strong winds howled and hammered throughout — sending everyone scurrying for cover. There was no let-up in the fury of the flood in the next 24 hours with rain descending in sheets. Early on September 27, water flowed over Puranapul breaching the city’s rampart wall on the western side.

The flood report prepared by the famous engineer, Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, shows that water rose alarmingly to 10 feet by 6 am and touched the crown arch of Afzal Bridge. Ghansi Bazar and Kolsawadi, where Osmania General Hospital now stands, were the worst-hit areas. As people prayed and panicked, Musi swelled by the hour and rose to 16 feet, overflowing the parapet walls of Puranapul, Muslimjungpul, Chadarghat and Afzal Bridge.

What caused the flood? It was the result of the bursting of several irrigation tanks on account of heavy precipitation over a wide area. About 2,000 people were believed to have been washed away in the historic deluge. Many saved themselves by hanging on to the branch of an old tamarind tree situated in the premises of Osmania General Hospital. A plaque put up here says, “This tree saved 150 lives.” Among the survivors was Amjad Hyderabadi, who later turned out to be a great Urdu poet. He helplessly watched his mother, wife, and daughter drown right before his eyes. Moved by the tragedy, he wrote the poem ‘Qayamat-e-Soghra’ (Minor Doomsday). The poem gives a graphic account of the disaster.

The sixth Nizam, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan, came out of his palace to personally see the havoc. He is believed to have opened the palace gates to accommodate his distressed and displaced subjects. For several months they were fed from the royal kitchens, it is said.

Every cloud has a silver lining, especially here when the floods led to the planned development of Hyderabad. The Nizam constructed the Osman Sagar and Himayatsagar reservoirs as a flood protection measure. Unfortunately, the authorities have not learnt any lesson from the Musi floods. Torrential downpours in the subsequent years have exposed poor planning and fragile civic structure.

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