Auckland, August 27, 2018
August 25 was the Harvest Festival of Malayalees, namely Onam.
It is celebrated all over the world with the enthusiasm as once-in-a-year extravaganza. Unfortunately, the recent flood dampened the festivities.
The Malayali community called off Onam celebrations all over the world but used the occasion to raise funds to help 1.35 million people who were shifted to the relief camps.
Although small, Kerala is one of the most densely populated states with 34 million people, almost equal to the total population of Canada.
Fishermen, the real heroes
The havoc caused by the devastating floods and the landslide that affected the State took 231 lives, and two million people are displaced.
The death toll could have in the thousands, if hundreds of fishing boats had not rushed to rescue people. Though the military and Disaster Management forces were involved in rescue operations, they had to wait for boats from North India.
The heroes in the deluge were the fishermen and their boats and Torres tipper trucks could wade through water.
The young District Collectors, who are the batchmates of a few of these districts and their cooperative initiatives saved most of the lives.
A house on the verge of collapse (Picture Supplied)
For instance, on August 16, 2018, when all the 31 dams in the State were opened, the District administration requested Father Justine Jude, a Priest at the Vizhinjam Church (almost 150 kilometres away from the most affected town of Chengannur) to get the fishermen’s help for rescue. He sent a message to all the fishermen through their group message system expecting 10 boats to arrive.
But within 15 minutes, 50 boats were ready with fishermen and within two hours, they reached Chengannur.
By night, the military operations had receded but almost two districts were fast drowning into the flood. Just like this team, hundreds of other fishermen rushed to the flood-affected areas and worked day and night to save lives and rescue people.
Flow of information
People from the rescue camps provided information of the trapped, using social media to the fishermen. Radio and TV stations became communication hubs for providing them vital information round the clock.
Friends and relatives from all over the world used Google Map Coordinates to locate where their dear and near are trapped and sent to these radio and TV stations.
The Disaster Management Team utilised the Malayali technocrats all over the world to attend and coordinate the rescue. Malayalees from Auckland also attended the SOS calls and WhatsApp messages to help the rescue operations.
Humanity and human needs stood ahead of socio, religious, political and economic divide. Temples, Mosques and Churches became rescue camps.
Muslims, Hindus and Christians offered prayers in Mosques, Temples and Churches.
The extent of damage
At least 70,000 houses collapsed and many more were damaged; damages to roads and bridges have disrupted public life; loss of agriculture and livestock are beyond calculation; more than 300 landslides are reported so far; rivers have altered its course taking away valuable property.
Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the loss was equal to the size of the state’s annual plan expenditure.
People from all sections of the society contributed generously to feed the people sheltered in the rescue camps. Women gave their earrings and ornaments; children broke their piggy banks; adults donated their land; employees offered one month salary, wedding receptions were cancelled and the amount donated to rescue and rehabilitate the flood victims; street vendors distributed their priced possessions like blankets and food.
Malayalees across the world are raising funds to rehabilitate the flood victims.
The Indian Cricket team offered its English tour prizemoney to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund. Football clubs like Barcelona and Liverpool have offered huge funding.
In New Zealand, funds are being raised through ‘Givealittle Page.’
Dr Michael Manjalloor is a social worker. He lives in Avondale, Auckland.
Photo Caption:Thousands of buildings have been destroyed by the deluge