Kerala battled with the fury of floods for two consecutive years. The coastal state has been preparing for the worst in 2020 amidst the pandemic. With lessons from the past and understanding the weather patterns in their regions, the people in Kerala and the administration have made a headstart this year which has helped in curbing a lot of damage.
August 2018 was a devastating month for Kerala with high monsoon rainfall leading to the worst flood in Kerala after 1924. More than 483 people died, and almost a million people had to be evacuated from their homes mainly from low lying areas in Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha districts. The northern districts experienced severe landslides.
With such experience in hand, the administration and the people have been adopting various means to tackle the floods this year. From conducting frequent live sessions on social media pages to arranging volunteers and special forces for rescue operations, here’s all that the state has been doing.
Kerala — On Alert
Kerala received 2346.6 mm of rainfall from 1 June to 19 August 2018, 42 per cent above the normal. Although the rainfall received this year from 1 June to 10 August 2020 was 1538.1mm, lesser as compared to the previous years, the continuous rains, the increasing water levels in the dams and the landslides have made people more vigilant.
P.B. Nooh, the proactive District Collector of Pathanamthitta, has continuously been on the move for the past two weeks despite the pandemic in force. He has been keeping the people informed through frequent live sessions.
Pathanamthitta, which recorded a massive number of evacuations and damage in 2018, has been on alert the past weekend, especially with the opening of the Pamba dam.
The district collector, in his Facebook live session on Sunday, 9 August this year informed that the administration had decided to open the dam during the day to avoid a flood situation at midnight.
“We have also arranged for 25 boats from the Kollam district along with 30 fishermen volunteers and have distributed them at flood-prone regions. Besides this, we have arranged for 22 members from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and have alerted the fire force to be prepared in case of an emergency,” P.B. Nooh explained in his live session.
The district has also arranged a total of 51 camps with one in each taluk and has already evacuated 1,250 people in flood-prone regions.
“The camps have been organised, keeping the pandemic in mind. The state government has ordered to categorise the camps for those above 60, a section for those who are currently under home quarantine and others who have completed their home quarantine,” Nooh adds.
In total, the state has also set up 6,300 relief camps and has also arranged four teams from the NDRF in northern and central Kerala anticipating more landslides.
Consequently, the people of Kerala are also well aware of the situation and have been able to make the necessary arrangements.
Raju Mathews, a resident of Kozhencherry, Pathanamthitta, whose house was severely damaged in the 2018 floods, explains how the alerts have benefited him.
“After the 2018 floods, everyone has a better idea of the rivers around them and what to look out for. The constant updates from the collector have also been very useful. Nooh sir has touched upon every minute detail in his live sessions including saving documents by keeping them in plastic files and moving valuables to elevated regions of the house. As a result of the prior warning, most families in my area have been able to move their things and have also been able to move our vehicles to less flood-prone areas,” Raju explained.
Emergency response meetings were also convened in each local body to assess the level of preparedness. Besides this, several informal volunteer groups have also come forward and are coordinating themselves through WhatsApp and other social media platforms.
“The 2018 floods came at short notice and was rather unexpected. We didn’t have an idea about the nature or the proportion of the disaster, but we did everything we can given the circumstances then. But this year considering the co-ordination would be difficult due to the pandemic; we decided to make maximum use of Facebook and WhatsApp to reach out to volunteers from different parts of Kerala. Our Facebook page currently has over 4,000 followers, and we constantly update it with helpline numbers and information of people in need,” says Sai Krishan, one of the admins of the KeralaFloodRelief group on Facebook.
“We were able to move my 93-year-old grandmother to my relative’s house because of the timely updates that we received. Last year when the floods hit, she had to be lifted in a chair and moved. Several other senior citizens in my area had to face a similar situation in 2018 as well. But this year we were able to prepare well in advance before the roads became nonfunctioning,” explains Greta Sam from Changanaserry, Kottayam.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)