Flood and after: 6 deaths and a village in mourning

Flood and after: 6 deaths and a village in mourning

An ambulance brings the dead to the church in Kuthiathode on Tuesday. DH Photo/ R Krishnakumar

At the St Xavier’s Church in Kuthiathode, a village near North Paravur in Ernakulam district, people gather near a pile of rubble in mournful silence.

An arriving ambulance, accompanied by wails of women, break the group as they walk toward the church entrance.

A portion of a church building that functioned as a flood relief camp had collapsed last week, killing six men and injuring one. The ambulance has just brought the first of the dead bodies for the funeral services.

The flood hit Kuthiathode on August 15, sinking homes and leaving people running for cover. The parish hall and other buildings in the compound had doubled as relief camps for hundreds of villagers. At about 7 pm on August 16, the upper portion of a building caved in; the seven men were trapped under. Villagers say the rain was pounding and it took a while before the scale of the tragedy started to sink in.

“There were so many people in that building when it happened. As we were frantically trying to find out ways to evacuate them, we came to know about the ones dead under the debris,” says Johnson, a villager. The six dead men are Kochouseph, Jomon, Shauryar, Paulose, Xavier and James.

In rising floodwater, with ropes and some pluck, the villagers and parish staff brought the others, including the injured survivor, out to safety. The body of the last of the dead men was taken out only on Monday. It was a statement by Paravur MLA V D Satheesan, two days after the building collapsed, that brought the incident to light.

“What happened after the tragedy was equally tragic. We called the panchayat officials and people involved in rescue operations and informed about the deaths but no one turned up,” says Davis, a resident. Strong currents are learnt to have limited rescue personnel’s access to the area. Aluva, the nearest town, is about 19 km away.

After assurances about boats being sent in failed, Davis and others made a video about their plight and shared it with media houses. “The Army came and pulled the bodies out over two days. It was traumatic for all of us here,” says Davis.

Shivan, a resident of a nearby colony, was at the church on the night of the incident. “The deaths have brought all of us closer,” he says.

Like other parts of flood-ravaged Kerala, Kuthiathode is getting back to life. Hope is essential in its recovery but the night of August 16 is very likely to shape that course back, to life as it was.     

As services at the church begin in the evening on Tuesday, as the village comes together in mourning, relief vans drive past, headed to camps elsewhere. In the compound, people have just spotted a dead buffalo, its face peeking out of the rubble.