Living their lives by the sea, the fisherfolk at Valiyathura are familiar with the nature’s violent ways.
Storms have battered the coast before but this time, they say, it is different. It is only early June and for the tide to eat up yards of shore and sweep ceaselessly into huts lining the coast is aberrant behaviour.
Some of them recall another wild monsoon, over 15 years ago. “That was the last time I saw the sea behave this way,” says Jerice, among those who stood a careful distance away from the threatening swell near the Kuzhivilakam colony.
Mariamma Poulose stands at the back of what remains of her hut. The front door was ripped off in the wind. She sees the grey sea from here, the froth just near the entrance. Often, water goes right through the house and up to her feet, bringing along many unwelcome offerings. “Previous years too, it was not pleasant to be here but it was still liveable. The sea would come up to the front. But now the water is here to stay,” she says, pointing to the weed and plastic washed ashore.
She and her two daughters have moved to a relative’s house farther inland for the time being. This is the case with many who live on the edge, a mere foot away from the rocks that once defined a reasonable boundary. They rely on the hospitality of their more fortunate relatives and neighbours, some of whom have taken in three more families in their modest dwellings. Relief camps have been opened at two schools in the area.
Some women said they preferred not to move into such camps where there are many ‘strangers.’ Others say taking care of infants and little children will be difficult in these camps.
The Deputy Collector concerned and other Revenue Department officials were doing the rounds, taking stock of the situation and urging people to move to the camps. “We cannot force them to come,” says an officer, adding that food, water, and medical care are available at the camps. “We have told them it is safe and that we have police patrolling throughout but they are not convinced. If they do not come, we may consider other options such as supplying food from these camps,” he says.
Concrete electricity posts slant dangerously over a hut, the ground beneath it eroded. There has been no power for three days and drinking water is a luxury, people at Karpahi Colony say.
Some men tried to fight the waves by stacking sacks of sand where erosion was severe.
“They collect sand from near the Valiyathura pier; lug it all the way back and for what? Blocks of granite cannot withstand the waves,” says councillor Tony Oliver. Others were more defeatist than foolishly enterprising, as they sat in groups, playing cards, willing for the sea to calm down.