Dubai: Rajesh Pillai, Chief Executive and director at Amiya Multimedia in Kerala, had a very close brush with death when his house was flooded up to the first floor and he thought he was to meet a watery grave with his wife, son and mother.
Speaking to Gulf News from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, Pillai recounted his chilling story. “My family, which includes my mother Shantha, 82, wife Anita, 47, son Kehsav, 12, and me, resides in Thiruvananthapuram, while my daughter, Visnupriya, is studying architecture at Vijaywada, We often drive down to the ancestral village Aranmula in Pathanamthitta district of central Kerala. It’s a place that has been accorded the status of heritage village by Unesco and runs the annual traditional snake boat race.”
The Pillais arrived in their village on August 14 to celebrate Independence Day the next day. However at 2am their village was abuzz with cries of neighbours about rising water levels.
“We woke up and quickly moved to the first floor, deciding to drive back to the city at 5am. However, we never thought that such a calamity would befall. As every year, rains are heavy and we were prepared for rising water levels which recede on their own. But the current flood is unprecedented in the history of Kerala. The last such flood had occurred in 1924,” Pillai said.
On day two there was some alarm as water entered their home and began rising. “We could not drive back as we realised the roads were submerged and water was gushing with great force into our home. When it entered the ground floor, we moved up to the first floor along with cooking range, refrigerator, food items etc,” recalled Pillai hoping that the situation would resolve soon.
However, on August 15, more than 24 hours later, when he realised there was no help forthcoming — no rescue boat, no medicines, no drinking water and jammed phone lines — panic broke. “Our home has a sloping roof and there was no terrace where we could move beyond the first floor. I moved my aged mother to a loft on the first floor as the water had entered the first floor and was rising. I called every official I knew, but there was no help in sight. Electricity was cut off and we waded in waist deep, cold water in the darkness, it was terrifying.”
At one stage Pillai thought he was going to die. “I called my daughter in Vijayawada, explaining all family issues and finances to her and telling her she might not find us alive. I switched off my phone, hugged my son, and just closed my eyes as no one came to rescue us,” recalled Pillai.
The first boat that came by their house on the morning of August 16 did not stop for them. “We cried and screamed for help but they did not stop. I thought this was the end.” Luckily for us some fisherman from Kollam district came on their own rescue mission.
“These guys spent money to load up the diesel in their boat and decided to look for stranded victims like us. They were Godsent, but no trained rescue workers. They had no water, we were parched with thirst. They had no medicines, and the one-and-a-half hours that we spent on that boat to reach the nearest releif camp was terrifying. Water swirled wildly around us and we had a 11 kilovolt high tension power line running right over our heads as the water had risen high. I thought we could either be electrocuted or would capsize,” feared Pillai.
Had the fisherman not rescued the Pillai family in that one-and-a-half-hour window they would have drowned, felt Pillai, who blamed the apathy of civic bodies and the government for this state of affairs.
“There are 44 rivers and innumerable dams in Kerala and we are literally sitting on a water bomb. The authorities were a total failure in disaster management and totally unprepared for. There is need for better groundwater management, rain water harvesting and ground level water management,” said Pillai.
Khalid was in the UAE in search of a job but has to return to Kerala to help out his family.
“Once the water recedes we will have to see what can be retrieved. We might require to rebuild some portions,” said Khalid who intends to fly back to Cochin by August end. “My sister is getting married in the first week of September, I cannot miss that. I will have to return later for a job, for now I will rebuild my home,” said a stoic Khalid.