At 3 am on August 18, Thirumaleshwara Gowda of Kalmakar village (nearly 130 km from Mangaluru) in Sullia taluk of Dakshina Kannada district noticed that the river near his house had swollen menacingly. Water gushed into his arecanut plantation. Sensing danger ahead, he woke up his family members. Despite the water level almost touching the concrete footbridge, he shifted them to his brother’s house on the other side of the river.
And in the nick of time. He returned after the water level receded in the river, only to find a boulder from the adjacent hill flattening his house and destroying the room where his family sleeps.
The situation was no different for other families in the village. Kalmakar lies 20 km away from the temple town of Kukke Subramanya on the Western Ghats. It is situated on the foothills of the Pushpagiri forest. A river from the Pushpagiri forest divides the village into two areas. When the floods and landslips broke out, trees in the Pushpagiri forest were uprooted and the surging waters from the Ghats washed them down into the river till Kalmakar.
The result was the complete destruction of two minor bridges and damage to four others. The first bridge to be destroyed was Kadamakal (located in a private rubber plantation). Flood waters carrying huge trees broke the five-decade-old minor bridge, cutting off connectivity for families of plantation workers with the rest of the village.
Hardly a kilometre downstream, a three-year-old minor bridge in Kalmakar met a similar fate. This cut off 60 families from the rest. Mahesh KP of the village said that seven families of the 60 in that area shifted to the other side of the village.
Village resident Narendra Bilimale told visiting journalists from Mangaluru that the last such flood occurred in 1972. On the response of the government machinery, Bilimale and Mahesh said that the locals were the first to respond, evacuating marooned villagers. Two forest officials from the nearby Pushpagiri hill ranges came to help.
Temporary reconstruction of minor bridges was the next immediate task after evacuation. They used arecanut and bamboo planks to construct makeshift footbridges, connecting families on either side.
Apart from the loss of two minor bridges, plantations and houses were also damaged. Sooryanarayana Bhat from the village lost around 8,000 coconuts stored in his house. Mahesh said that around 200 acres of arecanut plantations have also been affected.
Villagers said that the Assistant Commissioner of Puttur division in Dakshina Kannada district, who visited them recently, had assured them of building a hanging bridge. The Deputy Commissioner of Dakshina Kannada district had recently stated that funds will be sought from the Government to construct permanent bridges.
It was no different in Kochi, about 400 km south.
Eighty-nine-year old Vishwanathan Pillai was visibly disoriented when Business Line met him at his relative’s residence in the city. He had spent three days in a relief camp at the nearby Church along with his relatives as water rose to about four feet in his house at Thiruvaloor in Alangad Panchayat near Aluva, destroying his belongings. “I have witnessed the floods in 1961 but it did not come close to the 2018 deluge in terms of its intensity”, he reveals.
At the relief centre in St Teresa’s College, Mary was in tears. Flood waters ravaged her belongings at her house in nearby Pizhala Island. She is particularly worried about her milch cows, her only source of income. “The rich have some savings left but we are always in debt finding it difficult to make ends meet,” she said.
There are about 1,200 people mainly from the nearby islands of Pizhala, Kadamakkudy, Moolampilly in the camp. Says Sister Vineetha, Director of the College:“We have made all arrangements for regular visits of doctors to provide medical attention as there are many bed-ridden patients as well as people who have just undergone surgeries.”
The Ernakulam Merchants Chamber of Commerce is working with the college for the supply of all essential commodities. The college is functioning as a collection centre and supplies relief materials to other parts of the district, said Sister Vineetha. However, providing proper sanitation is a concern due to the low availability of toilets on the campus.