A Survivor's Diary
"All the temples, mosques and churches were drowned; But God came wearing uniforms to save us."
I am a naval wife, one who was trapped in an inundated, submerged house, one who saw the fury of floods open its pages one by one in front of my eyes during the recent floods in Kerala. One who was lucky enough to be rescued by a helicopter squadron, of which I am a part myself. Yes, am speaking about the ALH (Guardian) family who had their wings spread across the landscape of Kerala during the most devastating floods witnessed by Kerala in 140 years.
On 12th of August, when floods started its drum beats on areas north of Kochi, my husband sent me to my parents anticipating his unavailability in view of the forthcoming flood relief.
The day before Independence Day, on August 14, 2018, all news channels were flooded with footages of the looming disaster likely to affect God's own country. Landslides, floods and rain were claiming lives and causing untold misery across the state. Unsuspecting the danger at our doorsteps, we were just praying for the rest of Kerala. The Chalakkudy River slowly started overflowing and some low-lying areas were flooded by the end of the day. The skies broke open and it was raining cats, dogs and a few more borrowed from the nearby zoo. By evening, there was a total power shutdown in the area. Our mobiles ran out of charge and land line telephones too turned into just a piece of furniture.
We subsequently learnt that the nearby sub-station has been submerged, chasing away all hopes of restoring connectivity with outside world. Still we were feeling safe, as I said earlier, Vynthala had never seen a flood. That night, the rains did not abate. The next day, when the nation was celebrating Independence Day, the rising water levels were slowly dominating various parts of Vynthala, like the rest of Kerala. Houses near the river were getting flooded and people were moving towards higher ground. By night, water had reached our backyard which is few feet lower than the courtyard. That was a horrible night. The continuous downpour wasn't showing any signs of respite. As we were scared, we (my mom, little sister and I) moved to the first floor. We could see people fleeing for their life from the area. Around 0330 hrs, there were people at our doorstep, asking for shelter as their houses were flooded. We gladly obliged and by next morning, there were 13 souls at my home.
By August 16, 2018, Kerala was under the angry cusp of rain demons as hell rained down, flooding more than half of the state. The water that had by now reached our front yard, was inching higher every passing minute. The river which once followed its course, now flowed through wherever it found space, engulfing everything that came its way. In no time, the river found its way inside our home too. All my attempts to call up my husband went in vain as all the communication networks were down. With each swirl of water that whisked past us, our helplessness only became more profound. By 1130 hrs, the ground floor was completely under water. There we were, stranded on the top floor of the house amidst the furious Chalakkudy river without electricity and communication facilities.
Our hearts were sinking deeper into the abyss when all of a sudden I heard the distant whir of a helicopter. With new found energy and vigour in our strides, we all ran towards terrace. I saw an ALH flying past my home towards north. We waved our hands and shouted at the top our voice. Of course, our voices aren't louder than the rotors above and it definitely wasn't enough to grab their attention. However, the sight of Guardians in our area came as a beacon of hope. I felt life coming back to us and there was positive energy all around me. I now knew that the Guardians will come for us.
Few hours passed and the sky was still as dark as can be. The sound of water flowing outside the house resembled that at Athirappilly falls. Hours inched past and our eyes were still glued to the horizon, and slowly the hopes began to fade again. Suddenly we heard the rotors again. The whir of a helicopter was never more musical than then. This time we left no stone un-turned. Armed with few red shawls and a torch, we waved frantically at the helo. The aircraft came straight at us, flew over us and went straight ahead; it seemed like they didn't notice us. With faces drawn longer than cows, as we turned to go back inside, we saw the helicopter making a sharp turn to come back to us. The way my folks' faces lit up, it could have put a petromax to shame.
Soon the helicopter was hovering atop us with the heavy downwash throwing everything under its mercy asunder. Scampering to find my balance under the downwash, I thought I might fly off to the water outside. IN 707, I won't forget the airframe number, hovered steadily just above the terrace and a rescue basket was lowered. A diver in black suite merged out of it. "Indian Navy, we are here to rescue you ma'am" he said, the sweetest set of words I heard in my lifetime.
My heart was pounding hard. My sister and I were the first two to be winched up. Few dizzy moments in the gently spinning basket as it was winched up, strong splatters on our faces due to the heavy downpour and a few seconds later we were safely inside the aircraft. In a few moments, my mother and few neighbors joined us inside the cabin. Amidst all the gusty winds and spattering rains, ALH was hovering steady like a rock all the while.
Once everyone was picked up, the aircraft set off. I looked out of the aircraft and all I could see was white and the splatter of rain on the windshield. My sister broke into tears and hugged me tight, as we all had gone into a shock caused by this unexpected floods.
I recollected the word written on my husband's squadron t-shirt, 'Guardians'. I had only heard of the numerous stories of rescue missions by the Guardians at high seas. Now I have the singular honour of being a survivor, in the Guardian family, rescued by the Guardians.
- Mrs Nima (W/o Lt Cdr Arun Jose)