Kochi

Onam comes calling, three years after the deluge washed it away

Socio-environmental activist Khalid Mundapilly (extreme right), son Rajeeb, and police and railway personnel help relocate people stranded in the August 2018 deluge, in goods-train wagons.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Three years since what was seen as ‘the deluge of the century’ washed away Independence Day and Onam celebrations in Kerala, those who pioneered rescue efforts spoke of how both the events went largely unobserved, what with much of Kerala remaining submerged that year.

Kerala Matsaythozhilali Aikya Vedi (TUCI) president Charles George reminisced about how the continuous downpour of 2018 lasted from August 13 to 16 and the waters taking up to August 22 to submerge prompted fishermen from different parts of the State to launch rescue efforts of their own.

Kerala’s own Navy

The thousands of people they rescued or helped rescue through their selfless acts resulted in fishers coming to be known as Kerala’s own Navy.

“Along with a few others, I helped organise over 100 fishing boats from Kalamukku in Vypeen, load them in container lorries and take them to localities where people were perched on rooftop or on upper floors of houses. Many boats suffered damage to their engines, while trident and spear-shaped tops of steel gates and of compound walls of houses that remained submerged damaged innumerable others,” Mr. George said.

Someone posted my number on social media, and people began making frantic calls all through day and night to send fishermen to rescue them from the rising floodwaters. Fishers in smaller vessels from here fanned out to Aluva, Desom, Thuruth, Nedumbassery, and nearby places, while those in bigger ones were deployed in Varappuzha, Chennur, Puthenvelikkara, Gothuruth, Kadamakudy, Vadakkekara, and nearby locales. Stranded people who were rescued included actor Salim Kumar from his house at North Paravur.

Raw deal

“Interestingly, fishers refused to accept gold ornaments and valuables offered by people whom they ferried to safety. Three years down the lane, the question is ‘who will save the saviours’, most of whom are neck-deep in poverty, thanks to lack of government support, skyrocketing fuel prices, exploitation by middlemen, pandemic situation, and the fast depleting fish catch due to climate change. The State government has not heeded to the fish famine package that traditional fishers demanded in 2019,” he said.

Fishers’ life is in doldrums, even as the fish they sell in the wholesale market at less than ₹50 a kg is sold at ₹200 or more at retail outlets. Even an ordinance aimed at streamlining fish trading and management expired, with the result that middlemen call the shots even now, Mr. George said.

Goods wagons

Yet another person who was in the frontline to help evacuate people to safety was Khalid Mundapilly, an Aluva-based socio-environmental activist. “I along with my son Rajeeb could rope in members of a few NGOs to rescue people stranded in many parts of Aluva, Purayar, Chowara, and Chengamanad. Some of them had managed to reach the Aluva railway station in country boats or even in big enough vessels. The station master helped arrange a two-coach goods train, which operated multiple trips to take people to safety. The railway and police too extended a helping hand,” Mr. Mundapilly said.

Many others who managed to reach the Aluva metro station with no more than clothes they wore and water bottles, boarded metro trains that operated at 10 kmph speed due to safety reasons and disembarked at stations in Kochi city. The only other alternative to reach Aluva was tipper lorries, while helicopters hovered above to rescue people struck atop terraces.

The situation in the Edappally-Aluva corridor was so bad that only the top of the Aluva flyover could be seen above the water level on August 17, 2018.


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Printable version | Oct 25, 2021 11:54:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/onam-comes-calling-three-years-after-the-deluge-washed-it-away/article36021676.ece

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