The Military Station at Pangode had anticipated that this year’s monsoon could spell disaster in Kerala and had trained for deployment.
The vagaries of the weather often determine how an Army trains. The Military Station at Pangode in Thiruvananthapuram had anticipated well in advance that this year’s monsoon could spell disaster in various places in Kerala and the civilian administration was likely to seek its intervention.
Brigadier Adish Yadav, Station Commander, and his officers had trained, along with their men, mostly those from the 7 Madras, to tackle natural disasters of a wide variety from landslips to flash floods and sea surges on the basis of weather forecasts and models prepared early this year.
(The emergency preparedness training schedule of the Army includes scenarios such as tsunamis, nuclear disasters, epidemics and civic unrests, among several situations.)
The simulated disaster management exercises acquainted the men in advance with the potential disaster zones they would require to deploy.
The monsoon strengthened, and the Army readied its batteries, searchlights, grappling hooks, dinghies, mountaineering equipment, lifejackets and motorboats.
The Commander put his men on “stand to” for quick deployment. The 7 Madras, a unit raised in the 18 century by the British as a light cavalry regiment, was ready to move any time. The anticipated telephone call from the military headquarters came at 3.10 p.m. on August 5.
At 5.30 p.m., 140 men of the 7 Madras moved out of the camp in two columns, a cavalcade of military trucks piloted by officers in beacon-fitted vans, and headed to the landslip-struck Cheeyappara in Idukki district. The rest is unit history.
Working in shifts, the men speedily cleared the debris, recovered bodies and extricated vehicles from beneath the mass of mud that had buried the road there.
The cook house, a truck that ferried utensils, provisions and rations to the spot, set up a makeshift community kitchen and fed the local people, who were cut off from the rest of civilisation for at least two days.
Another column of Army men cleared two bridges over the swollen Karumali river in Thrissur and built temporary embankments in quick time to prevent inundation of nearby residential areas.
At Aluva, the Army is on stand-by to deploy in the event Kothamangalam is flooded. The operation in Idukki is over. The Brigadier toured the area on Wednesday. His men will continue to bivouac there till the rumbling sky makes way for milder weather.