Kerala is going through its worst floods in 100 years. If there was a silver lining, it’s the demonstration of a strong sense of community in the state. Professional groups, church groups, fishermen, and citizenry in general have pitched in to help locate and evacuate people stranded by the rising waters in many parts of the state, and provide food and other necessities to those who have been moved to relief camps.
Like Deepa KR, a software professional in Kochi, who has been actively involved in helping affected families through social media platforms. She is part of an IT employees collective, Prathidwani, whose members have been raising money to buy essential items. “There are almost 1.5 lakh people in 1,500 relief camps across the state,” she said. “We are trying to make food, clothes, medicines and other necessary items available to people in relief camps around Kochi. Many were airlifted here from distant areas where they were stranded by the floods.”
Deepa said they launched a Facebook group where people post the location of families and friends. After verifying the location, the group contacts the state government helpline about their whereabouts. “The situation is really bad in certain areas. Even after people have been rescued, family members do not get an update.”
Bidushi Das, 24, a student of IIMC Kottayam, is one of the many who have been stranded since August 16 in Vattammoodu, due to the overflow of river Meenachil. “There has been no drastic network issue, I have been able to get in touch with my parents in Kolkata,” she said. “But the water here is neck deep.”
Bidushi is luckier than most. Scores of people are still stranded and scrambling for help, trying to get in touch with family and friends through helplines and social media. The lack of electricity in several parts of the state has made it more difficult for victims and rescuers. Mobile networks have been sporadic.
The Met Department’s forecast of heavy rains over the next two days is only likely to increase water levels in all the rivers, which are already overflowing with the opening of 35 out of 39 of the state’s major dam shutters since August 9. These include the Cheruthoni Dam, part of Idukki reservoir, and the Mullaperiyar and Idamalayar Dams.
Officials from the state rescue operations team confirm that Aluva in Ernakulam, Thrissur, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Chengannur are inundated. Sources also say that North Paravur and people living on the banks of the Periyar river have been badly affected. The death toll is over 324, according to the official Twitter account of the Chief Minister’s Office, and will probably increase unless the rains let up.
Several public spaces in the state are being used as relief camps. The Rajiv Gandhi Indoor Stadium in Cochin—one of several large spaces available in the city—is one of them. School buildings in safer areas are also being used as relief camps. Devishree, a Class 11 student, moved with her family to St Marcellinus School in Nellimangalam village in Kottayam, where she studies. The village was inundated after the shutters of the Mullaperiyar Dam were opened.
“We moved here on our own. We hope the government will help us soon,” said Devishree. About 15 people are currently seeking refuge at the school. Most of the families here are from Parampuzha and Puthettu, two of the worst affected villages. “We are volunteering and helping our students and their parents during this tough period,” said Sister Richel, a teacher at the school. The state’s large fishing community has also come forward in their small-sized boats to rescue people stranded by the flood waters in isolated pockets.
Social media is being used as an effective tool to motivate volunteers and generate practical help and necessities for the flood victims. Anbodu Kochi, a volunteer group, has collaborated with multiple organisations to start essential supplies collection centres in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai. They regularly update a daily list of requirements that include food, medicines, clothes and other needs on their Facebook page. Former district collector of Ernakulam, MG Rajamanickam, has helped the group raise funds.
Church communities have joined hands with volunteer groups in helping those in need. Reverend Prince R of the Marthoma Church youth wing has been actively involved in ensuring people in relief camps get access to necessities, especially food. “We have collaborated with different NGOs and institutions for this, and received donations from church members,” he said. “I am currently at a relief camp in Adoor to distribute food. We are also helping families find shelter.”
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a press conference late Friday evening said that 3,14,391 people have been placed in 2,094 camps across the state and those still stranded will be rescued soon. He also said 18 Army teams, 46 Navy teams,13 Air Force teams, 16 coast guard teams, and 21 NDRF teams have been deployed for rescue and relief operations.
Reported by: Angarika Gogoi
With inputs from Pratyush Deep, T Anil and Sudeep Sebastian
(The authors are freelance reporters and members of 101reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)
Picture credit: Newsrupt