Shortage of food, potable water, fear of epidemic follow two days of ordeal

For two whole days and nights on June 26 and June 27, Bhimbahadur Pare and other residents of Phateki village including women and children were on rooftops of the village school without food or drinking water as flood waters continued to rise alarmingly and reach the level of roofs of their thatched houses. It was only on Friday when Army rescue teams reached the village with rescue boats could they be evacuated and taken to relief camps opened in this small township in northern Assam’s Sonitpur district, 50 km east of Tezpur.

By Tuesday, the water level receded but Bhimbahadur and other villagers grapple with problems — shortage of food items, safe drinking water, the danger of outbreak of epidemic in Phateki and other flood-affected villages as stinking cattle carcasses float in the flood waters.

“After the water level rose alarmingly and reached our neck level we took shelter on the school rooftop and for two days and nights we had nothing to eat or drink. The condition of children was turning worse. The water level was also rising. We thought all of us were going to die. When the Army people came with boats we heaved a sigh of relief. They rescued us in batches,” Naramaya Karki told The Hindu.

After the water level receded and they returned home, they found their possessions devastated — the cow, goats were gone, and the paddy kept in the granaries was damaged. Other belongings like furniture and utensils of many families were washed away.

“I have never seen such a devastating flood in my whole life,” said 72-year old Tikaram Kharga, who too survived by spending two days and nights on the school rooftop. Tilamaya Devi, a Class VI student in a school here said that along with other belongings of the family she lost all her textbooks and writing copies. “I have no books to read now,” she said. Other village students also have the same story to tell.

All along the entire 5-km stretch of the narrow road linking up with National Highway 52, residents of Phateki and adjacent villages spread out to dry the wet stocks of paddy soaked in flood waters. They were also seen drying their clothes on the roadside and in the relief camps.

Meagre relief

Chabilal Tamang of a village under the district’s Naduar revenue circle, whose residents have taken shelter on an embankment in the Kaziranga National Park across the river Brahmaputra with other villagers, said that since the flood hit their village, his eight-member-strong family got only two kg of rice and 250 grams of salt as relief provided by the district administration.

Residents of other flood-affected villages too said that barring one bowl of dal and two kg of rice they have not got anything else.

General Officer Commanding 21 Mountain Division Major General R.K. Nair told journalists at Phateki that in Sonitpur district alone about 6,000 marooned people were evacuated to safer places by the Army troops and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rescue teams.

Eight columns of Army personnel moved into the affected villages following breaches in an embankment at four places along the river Brahmaputra on June 24.

Maj. Gen. Nair said that while the water level had receded, making safe drinking water available to villagers and prevention of epidemic were two major challenges faced.

While some villagers were able to save their livestock by wading them across to an embankment, many face a bleak future having lost their cattle.

“We are farmers. The government must provide us cattle so that we can start cultivation to start our lives anew. Otherwise we will not be able to survive,” said Shantiram Kotuar.

Still in camps

In Sootea, about 45,000 people were affected while about 5,000 people are still in relief camps. It faces the danger of further damage through fresh rains causing a rise in the Brahmaputra.