Poor bear the brunt of nature's fury in Kerala

Poor bear the brunt of nature's fury in Kerala

Families fled with whatever they could carry, said Sunny, whose house is now precariously perched close to a stream

Bilal in his flood-ravaged home in Koottickal, Kottayam district. Credit: DH Photo

Bilal M was crestfallen when he returned to his home in Koottickal, a town in Kottayam district, central Kerala, on Friday. A fruit seller, the 57-year-old had spent an agonising seven days at a relief camp after he abandoned his home when the Manimala river swelled due to torrential rains.

“This house was built from the savings I made after meeting the requirements of my family,” Bilal told DH sitting in his home that suffered extensive structural damage after being submerged in water for several days. 

“We already had financial liabilities that worsened with the Covid lockdown. So I don’t know how to go on with my life now.” 

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Like Bilal, scores of economically weak families living along the banks of Manimala in Koottickal and Mundakayam towns in Kottayam and Idukki districts saw their homes and entire hard-won earnings swept away in the floods and landslides that struck parts of the state in October.

Many houses have been reduced to rubble, while several more could collapse any time. Furniture, vehicles, home appliances, vessels, books and other valuables have been irrevocably damaged, resulting in emotional scenes for families. Women are still desperately searching among the debris for any valuables they can retrieve. 

Sunny, a resident of Mundakayam in Kottayam district and a daily wage labourer, said he didn’t panic when water level in Manimala rose as he had seen it earlier as well. He remained in his home and so did others. But when the water level kept on rising, he knew he had to leave.

Families fled with whatever they could carry, said Sunny, whose house is now precariously perched close to a stream, with a portion of its basement washed away.

Several aged women and children staying near the landslide spot in Koottickal, where 10 lives were lost, are too shaken to recollect the frantic moments of their escape on hearing the thundering sound of the landslide.

One of them is Rasheeda, who is yet to come out of the shock. Rasheeda took shelter at the house of bus driver Jebi KT, situated right on the river bank, along with her children and grandchildren. But out of fear, all of them moved out of the house.

A little while later, the house plunged into the river along with two other adjacent houses, a video of which went viral on social media.

“It is our entire life-time savings that now remains as concrete rubble on the river bank,” laments 53-year-old Jebi.

For the shopkeepers, it was indeed a double whammy. Already reeling under the impact of Covid lockdown, their goods suffered extensive damage in the floods.

Luxurious houses along the river banks were also not spared in nature’s fury as the water level rose to over 10 feet in many areas in the two towns. Even those sitting in the comfort of their first floor homes had to desperately seek help, which was never anticipated by locals.

Mundakayam native Shameer, who was actively engaged in rescue efforts, said that many residing in two-storey houses had initially declined to shift to safe places, but they changed their mind once water level rose alarmingly.

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