Deluge at Midnight
When water receded from the flood hit Kochi suburbs in Kerala someone clicked that image from the sky. Through the thick foliage around the house and dense water on the ground those six big white letters stood out on the terrace of a house. THANKS. Flood hit Keralites are expressing their gratitude to all the heroes who rescued their life from the unimaginably horrendous and devastating deluge.
The word of thanks on terrace was a seeming tribute to all rescue members especially the Pilot Commander Vijay Varma who had saved two women from the top of that house on August 17. One of the women, Mrs. Sajida was pregnant when she was airlifted from the roof top. A few hours later she gave birth to a baby boy in the naval hospital.
Whole of Kerala was soaked by the heavily pouring torrential rains and the gushing water released from its 80 dams spread in 44 rivers. The catastrophe was unfolding overnight when hundreds of landslides occurred washing out lives, livestock, houses and agricultural fields. Thousands of people were trapped in flooded houses without been able to be approached, not to think of being rescued!
Power of Solidarity and Fraternity
What kept the hopes alive in the sinking State was the flood of solidarity and support. Water was raising beyond the expectations of the residents and all escape routes were slowly being inundated. But the neighbouring communities immediately rushed to the flooded areas to save their fellow people from drowning.
People less affected by the waters started preparing food for neighbours and strangers. Evacuation of the trapped people was the first priority. People whose houses were on higher levels harboured their affected neighbours. But the rivers were flowing furiously expanding to many kilometres on either sides of its usual banks.
Then, Churches, schools, temples and mosques were opened for victims. Flow of ready-to-eat food, cloths and other basic materials surprised everyone. Hindus, Muslims and Christians in the relief camps ate together, prayed together and slept under one roof! People of various political affinities shared same building forgetting their ideologies. Neither floods nor fear could submerge them anyway.
History will never forget the fishermen of Kerala who rushed to the sunken lands carrying their 30 feet long fishing boats on trucks. They minimised the toll significantly. Army and navy with their technology and expertise saved thousands of people from the trapped houses. IAS officers did not hesitate to wade the water carrying bags of rise and cloths as much as they were making quick decisions with utmost efficiency. Police Force and Fire Force of Kerala did a praiseworthy service.
In Idukki, a pet dog woke up the family just before a huge landslide eroded their house and property. What an amazing connection! Hundreds of dogs and animals were saved by the animal rescue force. In Alappuzha, where water is on high levels even now, many people hesitated to evacuate just because they did not want to abandon their beloved livestock.
A family had helplessly decided to leave their goats behind before they evacuated themselves from Kuttanad. Mr. Saji, his poor neighbour gave 500 rupees to the family and took the goat to his flock. Rain was pouring and water was rising incessantly that night. He could no more stay back. He transferred all six goats to his hired canoe and escaped to the land.
Various States of India including Delhi immediately responded to the crisis situation of Kerala. From Punjab to Karnataka many states generously supported with materials and manpower. In Delhi, Justice Kurian Joseph of the Supreme Court personally visited the material collection centre at late night and spent a few hours with volunteers sorting and despatching supplies to Kerala.
Harmony Reduced the Havoc
A Christian shrine in Neelimangalam near Kottayam was drowning in water. Most people had vacated the place. Mr. Sanal Kumar, a Hindu neighbour of the shrine, noticed the water touching the icon of St Mary. He took the holy picture safely and placed it in his puja room along with his other Hindu gods and goddesses. Later Christian priests visited Sanal Kumar to thank him for the great gesture of reverence.
In Parapukara near Iringalakkuda, and Chithirapuram near Thodupuzha Christian cemeteries became final resting places for a Hindu women and man respectively who died during the floods. In northern Malappuram a mosque became shelter to 17 displaced Hindu families, including women, children and the elderly. Temple hall in Eravathur near Mala was opened for Muslims to conduct Eid prayers on Wednesday. Hundreds of churches, temples and mosques are harbouring many thousands of desolate people from various religious affinities and denominations. Now similar inspiring stories of social harmony and support from camps as well as well-wishers inundate the gloomy atmosphere of Kerala.
If You Have Two, Give One Away
No sooner had the Camillian Task Force (CTF) heard about the havoc in Wayanad, the hilly district disconnected by several landslides, its members rushed to the flood hit areas. CTF is a body of the Catholic Order of the Ministers of the Sick, which helps the victims of natural or man-made disasters, providing competent humanitarian, spiritual and pastoral help. The team consisted of 14 priests, 4 doctors, 18 nuns and other volunteers. Some of these priests and nuns are doctors or nurses who has expertise in relief work. Striding through the hazards and heavy rains they acted quickly to reduce the ruin.
The tremendous work of Capuchins in Idukki district had been instrumental to keep the people stay calm amidst the disastrous erosion of land in many places of the district. Roads are thoroughly damaged preventing to access the neighbouring towns even though people wanted to reach out. Fr Jijo Kurian was networking with other leaders and officials for logistics of relief materials for the totally isolated district. The Capuchins have opened the doors of all their houses and their kitchens are preparing thousands of food packets ever since the waters hit Kerala.
In the evening of August 16 Fr Justin Jude, the parish priest of Sindhu Yathra Matha parish, got a call from the Police department in Vizhinjam requesting for 10 fishing boats to be sent to the flooded areas for rescue. The police was confident about the efficiency of the priest who had done an amazing work during the
Okhi disaster that ravaged the Kerala coast. Father immediately sent the message to the fishermen parishioners through their parish social media. When he reached the harbour in 20 minutes he was surprised to see almost 50 boats and hundreds of fishermen getting ready to go for rescue work.
Not everyone in Kerala is in a mood to celebrate its annual harvest festival Onam falling on 27th of this month. Yet, people might celebrate it lightly which would boost economy but reduce the collective trauma. Many Muslims are still in relief camps on this Eid without being able to celebrate it. Catholic nuns who have opened their convent to be a relief camp in Kodungallur, joined other Muslim women in the camp who drew floral patterns with Mailanchi on nun’s hands. This was a spectacular gesture of inclusion and welcome at the time of disasters.
Keralites bow their heads with gratitude as the whole world extends their generous support to overcome the damages. The generous support of United Arab Emirates (Rs. 700 cr.) and other countries and organisations are graciously remembered. Someone wrote on his Facebook wall in Arabic: Sukran Habibi, meaning “Thanks, Oh Loved Ones.”
Image Courtesy: PTI, Facebook Friends