The Recent Floods in Hyderabad: A Photo Essay

In the early hours of 13th October 2020, a weak tropical cyclone made landfall at Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh. Designated as 'Deep Depression BOB 02' by the IMD (India Meteorological Department), it weakened and moved westward over land and triggered heavy rainfall across Telangana.

In Hyderabad, during the day one witnessed the usual waterlogged roads and flooded basements. But soon the situation took a turn for the worse, as one neighbourhood after another went underwater. The city which received an average rainfall of 69.1 cm in a year, had seen parts of it receive 28 cm on this particular day alone. 

The Musi, along which the modern city of Hyderabad was established in 1591, was once feared for its torrential waters, especially during the monsoons. The Thugyani Sitambar or the Great Musi Flood of September 1908, is considered an epochal moment in the city’s history. The river’s catchment areas received 98.57 cm rainfall causing the waters to rise over 60 feet. An estimated 15,000 were killed and homages are still offered every year to a tamarind tree which saved the lives of over 150 people who climbed on it to escape the waters.

The Nizam of Hyderabad invited Sir Mokashagundam Visweswaraiah to develop a flood mitigation system for the city. A modern drainage system was developed and two major reservoirs of Osman Sagar and Himayat Sagar were built by damming the river and its tributary, Esi. A City Improvement Board was established in 1914 to oversee a planned and phased development of the city. 

The system largely worked and the only time Hyderabad had had major flooding was in August 2000, when 46.9 cm of rain caused flooding of as many as 90 localities. However, as heavy rains continued to beat down upon the city for over a week, lakes and drains which have been neglected and encroached upon for decades, could not keep up with the inflows. Overflowing waters from lakes flooded surrounding colonies with a force that brought down walls, overturned parked vehicles of all sizes and carried them afar, and mangled steel shutters of shops. About 37 people died in Hyderabad alone, by drowning, electrocution, and by being buried under a wall collapse.

The Musi’s fury knew no bounds as it crashed through every encroachment that stood in its natural path. The force of the water caused structural damage to the Nayapul bridge and washed away metallic barricades erected on the Chaderghat and Moosarambagh bridges. The river inundated more parts of the city when the gates of the Himayat Sagar lake were lifted after more than a decade.

Water levels in some neighbourhoods reached 12 feet. At Nadeem Colony in Tolichowki, one of the first settlements to report rising waters, boats were deployed to rescue people and move them to safer grounds. As ground floors submerged, residents had to scamper to first or even second floors for safety. Over 37,000 people were evacuated from low-lying areas between October 13 and 19 as K. Taraka Rama Rao, Minister for Municipal Administration and Urban Development, informed the media.


Several localities such as the Al Jubail colony and Uma Narasimha Nagar in Kompally continued to be under several feet of water even after the rains stopped. When the waters receded from areas such as Hafiz Baba Nagar and Al Jubail Colony, they left behind huge mounds of trash and mangled vehicles, and houses covered in mud. Standing crops in several parts of Telangana were also damaged. The state government pegged the total losses to over Rs.9000 crores and has offered Rs.10,000 to every house that the waters had entered.



Harsha Vadlamani is an independent photojournalist whose current work focuses on agrarian crises, issues of development and displacement, migration, and land rights across India. His work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, GEO, Al Jazeera, Le Monde, Financial Times Magazine, CNN, BBC, Scientific American, Foreign Affairs, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Nature and Wired among other publications.