Equipped with salvage boats and sailing equipment, sailors and support staff led by national champion K. Gowtham waded through canals amid blinding rain and gusty winds to conduct rescue operations, steering many citizens in submerged colonies to safety.
Gowtham and his fellow national sailors, Y. Prasad of Rasoolpura, and M. Saibaba, a bronze medallist in the Optimist class in 2017 now working as the Yacht Club coach, used the same boats they had sailed in for the Nationals. With inflatables, radios and jackets, they proved to be the unlikely saviours, even as many government personnel also worked overnight to reach out to rain-hit citizens.
The sailors were aided by a voluntary organisation called SDIF, headed by Mohammad Azam Khan. “We got a call around 7 a.m. on October 13, saying that about 500 people were stranded and unable to get out of their houses. So our coaches responded immediately. Never in the past 40 years have I seen such a deluge at the lake, and it was surreal as wind and water lashed the Hussainsagar in the dead of night,” recalls Suheim Sheikh, president of the Yacht Club.
“We lost a load of expensive equipment, including an engine. One of our boats sank as they were not designed for or anchored to suit such intense conditions. But all our coaches are trained swimmers and lifeguards and the least we could do was help when the city needed such skills,” he added
Gowtham and Saibaba headed out to Tolichowki, rescuing people in low-lying colonies adjacent to lakes. Prasad, on the other hand, left for Saroornagar and managed to ferry 15 families to safety, after which he headed to Rasoolpura with his boat as he got a call from Shaik Nayeem of the Kriya Sangh Society, informing him that water levels there were rising rapidly.
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By the end of the rescue job, the national champions had trained many local volunteers, and left the Yacht Club boats behind, which were used through the night. Azam Khan, who heads SDIF, was full of praise for Gowtham, Prasad and Saibaba, who, in four small Optimist class boats, rescued about 1,600 citizens in two days.
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Not to be left behind, volunteers Sunil Bhatti and Rajendra Prasad helped keep anxious relatives stay calm, keeping them updated about their efforts across the city.
At the end of it all, the sailors had every reason to feel proud of having done their bit in the hour of crisis.