How My Family Survived the Kerala Floods, and Why We Fear What Lies Ahead

Photo by Adv C. Jayachandran

By Sindu Sreebhavan

It was Onam time. My mother was ecstatic. My brother and his eight-year-old son were visiting her from Dubai. But, the monsoon season that normally ends a few weeks before Onam did not seem to be in a mood to end its course. Pandanad is a thickly populated village in southern Kerala, on the banks of the river Pampa.

The river rarely floods beyond a certain point, and when it happened it was more of an inconvenience than a destroyer.

The day I called my mom, she told me about the continuous rains and about how the power supply had gone out two days earlier. By that evening, shutters of most of the dams in the state were released.

The rain was so strong that its noise kept sleep away. At 4 am, hearing an unusual sound, my brother lit a torch outside. He realised with horror that water was raging into the front yard of the house. It was a matter of minutes before it reached inside.

Two neighbours came in to ask about my uncle, who is a polio survivor and cannot walk. Just as they were carrying him to their own home, they saw water ripping off the gate between the two houses.

Soon, the entire village had succumbed to the water and they were isolated. People could not step out of their homes as the water current was strong enough to carry them along with it. As the water level rose, many people in the neighbourhood took refuge either on the first floor of their houses or on roofs.

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Photo credit: Presanth R Pillai

By the next day, most phones in Pandanad were out of charge. My family had stocked up on food as there is a shop next door. Many other families could not do that. Two days into their isolation, my family started collecting rainwater. They boiled it and used it for drinking.

I made hundreds of calls to rescue missions. Most of them got no response due to busy network and poor connectivity. But, when some got answered, I realised the true meaning of empathy. They were genuinely concerned about our situation.

People from all walks of life, from executives to fishermen, worked together shoulder to shoulder in this mission of humanity. They did not wait for the state or central government to lead; they made use of social media and technology to organise rescue efforts.

When my family was finally rescued, they left home without any extra clothes or money. The money in their bank accounts proved useless. ATM booths were submerged. Paytm and online transfers were impossible when all gadgets were damaged in water or out of charge.

After the rescue, my mom and uncle were admitted to a hospital (they are fine now). Relatives from drier areas of the state provided them with basic necessities. People who reached the relief camps were given basic necessities by rescue missions.

Those who live off the land are the worst affected as their houses are completely damaged, farmland and crops are utterly destroyed and they have lost their livestock.

Furniture, gadgets, utensils, clothes. Regular things you see in any household were destroyed. Electrical wirings went faulty or hazardous in many households. The flood didn’t discriminate between rich and poor.

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Photo credit: Adv C. Jayachandran

This is the Onam season, the biggest festive season and the highest revenue generator for businesses. Businesses had stocked up inventory and geared up for Onam with special products, promotions and packages. All this has gone into the water.

Diseases might make an entry when the water recedes and when hundreds of people live in camps. For that, the state will need a lot of medicine. Cleaning itself will take time and gigantic effort with knee-deep mud inside houses, which is heavy and hardens when it dries. This will need powerful cleaning agents and many helping hands.

Though I am relieved about the safe evacuation of my family, they are worried about the gigantic task of getting back to normalcy.

All of Kerala needs to be rebuilt, from basic amenities to infrastructure to houses. Kerala government needs money, relief camps need money and the common people need money. Let us support Kerala so that it comes back stronger and greener.

Sindu Sreebhavan is the Chairperson of International Youth Leadership and Innovation Forum (IYLIF), CEO of As Many Minds and the author of international bestsellers including Infinite Possibilities

First published in eShe’s September 2018 issue