Kerala: The fight for survival
As Kerala drowned witnessing the wrath of Nature, – the NDRF, Armed Forces and ordinary citizens joined hands in a valiant effort to defy odds and showcase the power of united humanity.
The deluge in Kerala has wrecked havoc in the state, claiming over 300 lives and rendering several more homeless. The incessant rains for over a fortnight brought life to a standstill. At this time of crisis, the Indian forces rose to the occasion, valiantly rescuing victims from the worst-affected areas, escorting them to safe locations. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has played a particularly pivotal role in monitoring the situation and actively deploying members to evacuate hapless victims.
Monitoring the survivors
According to Krishan Kumar (PRO NDRF), in the flood-hit areas, some multiple storey buildings were in a stable condition and the families living on the ground-floor had moved to the top floors. Since there was less chance of water reaching the upper storeys of the building, the rescuers advised residents to stay there while necessities like food, medicines, water was provided to them. A regular tab was being kept on such buildings and the people living there.
"The neediest persons, like children, pregnant women and elderly people are first evacuated and proper medical treatment is given to them," said Kumar. Further adding that every victim cannot be housed in one place and proper planning is essential before every evacuation. Assigning shelters to evacuated citizens is done by the local authorities. "A school, college or hospital, either can be used as a shelter home if found to be safe," Kumar said.
Variations in soil
Sharing experiences of floods in different parts of the country, an official emphasised upon how in Bihar and Rajasthan the soil has a water-absorbing quality. Thus, at the time of floods, the land quickly absorbs water and the situation stabilises. In Kerala, things are different as the state lies in the coastal areas, due to which, the water-holding capacity of the land is very low. The other problem is high-tide and waves combined with a heavy downpour that cause waterlogging in the state's low-lying areas. The exit routes of rainwater get affected and, instead of going to the sea, the water is trapped in a few restricted places.
Series of SOS messages
On an average, every day, the NDRF helpline number is receiving more than 130 calls from across India and abroad, seeking help. According to the data, per day, more than 200 messages are coming on WhatsApp and NDRF has received over 300 e-mails from the families of victims trapped in the marooned areas.
The messages also share the location, longitude and latitude of the houses where the victims are suspected to be trapped. According to one of the SOS messages, claiming to be from UAE, the sender wrote: "Please try to find my friend's family who lives Chengannaur ala Panchayat next to village office. (sic)" The other message claimed that "My parents are in Aluva and I can't get through them. They are in the Church, I just want to know whether they are safe and has electricity resumed. They are senior citizens and heavy diabetic patients and I am worried about their health." One more SOS claimed that 200 persons are stranded on the terrace of a two-storey building. There is also a 12-year-old child who is breathless. Each of the messages had the location of the house. The technology has also come to the rescue of trapped citizens as they were able to send their precise locations.
The deployment of the teams was decided by meetings conducted at the State Emergency Operations Centre (SEOC), including officials from the Indian Meteorological Department and the rescue forces. After they found the situation to be grim, they called for additional deployment in many districts.
The details of NDRF's rescue operations accessed by Millennium Post claimed that till August 8, three teams of NDRF were deployed in the state but the situation started to change from the intervening night of August 8-9, in view of multiple landslides, heavy rain and release of water from major dams and reservoirs. Soon, seven additional teams were mobilised in the state. Out of 10 teams, one was deployed at Kozhikode, where, due to landslides, 72 people were evacuated to a safer place. Another team conducted search operations in connection with the isolation of some villages due to landslides and evacuated 26 persons to a safer place from Palakkad.
Come August 10, additional teams were mobilised in the state. In Wayanad, seven were rescued from River Kabini; whereas in Idukki, during a search operation at Cherutheri Bridge on Periyar River, three persons were evacuated. The team had cleared the roads which were blocked due to landslides and they also saved a nine-year-old child in district Alappuzha in connection with drowning.
On August 13, the Rescue Team retrieved one dead body during their search operations in Chengannur. The situation turned grave from August 15 and four more additional teams were mobilised in the state and more than a thousand persons were evacuated from Pathanamthitta, Idukki, Kozhikode, Ernakulam, Wayanad, Thrissur, Alappuzha, Palakkad. On August 16, 17 and 18, over 17,000 people were evacuated and five dead bodies were retrieved. Meanwhile, over 450 persons and several livestock were rescued. So far, 51 teams of NDRF are working round-the-clock for the safety of citizens. Most NDRF teams are operating in Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Kottayam and Thrissur districts which are still the worst-affected.
NDRF Director General (DG) Sanjay Kumar told Millennium Post that they pre-position their teams in flood-prone areas of the country well before the onset of scheduled monsoons and remain in close coordination with the state authorities, forecasting agencies and Central Water Communication. In addition, 28 Regional Response Centres (RRCs) and reserve teams at 12 Battalion headquarters are put on alert across the country. Similarly, four teams were pre-positioned in Kerala also. More teams were rushed to the state as the situation aggravated.
When asked about the problems faced by the rescuers during the operation, DG Kumar stated that reaching to the maximum people at the earliest was the only challenge for NDRF. The water current was very high in some places and reaching to the people was time-consuming. "Our rescuers are well-trained and mentally prepared for any situation, so we didn't face any other problems," added the DG.
Saviours in uniform
The Indian Forces (Army, Navy and Air Force) were continuously engaged in the rescue operations as they constructed temporary bridges from fallen trees and rescued several stranded persons. In many cases, they airlifted the flood victims to a safe place.
Indian Armed Forces' 27 fixed-wing military transport aircraft and 49 helicopters are actively engaged in the transportation of food, fresh water, personnel across all flood-affected areas of Kerala. Indian Armed Forces have rescued over 24,000 people and provided medical aid to 2,000 persons so far in the flood-affected areas of Kerala. Armed Forces continue to work with NDRFHQ in executing multiple relief tasks. At Chengannur in Pathanamthitta, a mother and infant were stranded on the first floor of a damaged building. They were safely evacuated and shifted to a relief camp by the Indian Coast Guard. In another case, Naib Subedar Manbar Singh of 13 Garhwal Rifles led his column and carried out operations in 8-10 feet deep water for the full-day and rescued 536 persons. The C-17 aircraft crew is working 24*7 to ensure continued support to Kerala. In another incident, Wing Commander Prasanth of Garud Special Force of IAF saved a toddler from a rooftop in the flood-hit town of Alappuzha, Kerala. IAF helicopters winched and evacuated stranded people and children from rooftops and safely dropped them across various relief camps.
In many cases, the NDRF teams were airlifted with their machinery to the flood-hit areas with the help of the Indian Air Force who gave them assistance through airlifting. The IAF rescued many victims through their planes and also assisted in providing relief material as quickly as possible. "In some cases, if there is the urgent need of rescue operations, the IAF always helps us and ensures that we reach the spot quickly," said an NDRF official. Due to the combined effort, the rescue forces reached the precise location and started their operations without delay.
The floods in Kerala brought the ordinary people together and, with the forces, they also started assisting victims either through donations or by helping the rescuers. In one such noble cause, a fisherman in Vengara put himself in water so women and children could use his back to step into the boat. A group of people organised langar for the flood-hit people with the help of Gurudwara Singh Sabha, Thevara. They have set up a relief camp where meals are being served to 3,000 people.