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Assam floods | A first-person account: The day a town drowned

Aerial view of the flood-affected area as seen by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma during his survey, in Silchar on Thursday.

Aerial view of the flood-affected area as seen by Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma during his survey, in Silchar on Thursday. | Photo Credit: PTI

Water started entering my house around 3.30 a.m on June 20. By late afternoon, it had reached almost the first floor. The Barak river in Silchar, the biggest town in southern Assam, was in spate and the embankment has given way.

On the evening of June 19, the Cachar district administration issued an alert that water was entering the town. People knew a flood was coming – it was only a month ago that the district had witnessed a devastating flood. But that this time, the deluge would become one of the biggest ever, no one had imagined. Inch by inch, the water rose rapidly, submerging even areas of the town where floodwaters had never reached in living memory.

Khirode Das, a businessman in Premtola, the heart of the town, rued, “I am 76 years old. Never before has this area been flooded.”

In south Bilpar, one of the worst-affected areas of the town, Bimala Nath, a house help in her sixties, was in tears. On May 19, she had decided to stay back at her relative’s house for the night thinking that she would go home the next morning to collect her valuables. During the previous floods, she had done the same; the water was just till her waist.

As day broke, she waded the cold floodwaters towards her house. The water level kept rising. It was then she realised that her beloved almirah (wardrobe) was now completely submerged. "The water was almost head-high," she said.

Her little belongings, a few pieces of jewellery, a few sarees she had collected over the years working at people’s houses, and most importantly her papers were now deep under water.

I have been witness to eight floods in Assam so far but few have been as devastating as this.

On June 22, the third day of the floods, as I waded through chest-deep water, I asked an Army jawan, whether he had witnessed such rapids before. “Yes, I have, at places where they have adventure sports. Yeh toh tabahi hain [This is a disaster],” he said.

Villagers with relief materials going back to their home in a country boat in the flood affected Morigaon district of Assam on Tuesday, 21 June 2022.

Villagers with relief materials going back to their home in a country boat in the flood affected Morigaon district of Assam on Tuesday, 21 June 2022. | Photo Credit: RITU RAJ KONWAR

I boarded an NDRF boat which was going to my area for relief and rescue. As we moved forward, clearing the debris, the scale of devastation started becoming apparent. People were standing on their rooftops, crying for help, drinking water and relief material. Little children and elderly stuck in their homes, without food and drinking water, with at least 10 ft of water in many places.

Little children and elderly are stuck in their homes, without food and drinking water, with at least 10 ft of water in many places.

Little children and elderly are stuck in their homes, without food and drinking water, with at least 10 ft of water in many places. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

In an area where thousands were stranded, we had around 200 bottles to offer. We could not reach many bylanes of Public School Road. The medicines we carried for an elderly person remained with us. The personnel said the water current was so strong that the boat would overturn.

A volunteer, Arup Chanda, recalled how the vessel he was on the previous day had toppled. He was bruised from head to toe. Yet he jumped into the water to rescue a stranded boy.

Watch | Why does Assam flood every year?

As the boat returned to base, we left behind desperate cries for help with nothing but a promise that we would return with more supplies.

As the Barak continues to ravage Silchar, there is a massive shortage of food and drinking water. Though the administration is working 24/7, there is an apparent lack of coordination and not enough relief material and rescue personnel.


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Printable version | Jun 24, 2022 1:03:38 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/assam-floods-a-first-person-account-the-day-a-town-drowned/article65557462.ece