People in Chalakkudy heaved a sigh of relief on Saturday as the rain subsided and the floodwaters receded. The municipality in Central Kerala’s Thrissur district was among the areas that bore the brunt of the floods after the sluice gates of Peringalkuthu, Sholayar and Upper Sholayar reservoirs were opened on August 15.

The floods have left a trail of destruction in Chalakkudy, killing at least four people and damaging thousands of houses. All 100 or so patients at the Government Taluk Hospital were ferried to safety.

“These floods were unprecedented,” said Thrissur Rural police chief MK Pushkaran said. “We faced a tough task. But the joint operations rescued over 5,000 stranded people. I hope the worst is over for Chalakkudy.”

A boat used to evacuate patients from the Government Taluk Hospital in Chalakkudy. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

On Friday, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said the rescue operations would be intensified in Chalakkudy as well as Chengannur, another badly affected area to the south in Kottayam district.

Still, however, Chalakkudy remains cut off from the rest of Kerala. Power and water supply have not been restored yet. Telecommunication services remain in disarray. Adding to the misery is the shortage of fuel.

Chalakkudy municipality’s chairperson Jayanti Praveen Kumar, though, is optimistic. “With the floodwaters receding, we hope to restore normalcy soon,” she said. “The municipality is working with various government agencies and voluntary organisations.”

Nearly 7,000 people are currently staying in 32 relief camps across the municipality and in neighbouring panchayats. The civic body has been providing them food, water and clothes. “We are getting good support from government agencies and volunteer organisations to provide food, water and clothes,” Kumar said. “All relief camps have been running smoothly.”

On Saturday, state ministers AC Moideen and VS Sunil Kumar, who are both from Thrissur, coordinated the relief and rescue work.

A family in Chalakkudy cleans their home after the floodwaters receded on Saturday. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

We lost everything’

At a relief camp set up in Chalakkudy’s Government Model Boys’ Higher Secondary, which shelters over 300 people, the inmates are worried about having to rebuild their lives from scratch. “My home would be completely submerged by now,” said S Ambili, 45. “It won’t be possible for me to build a new house.”

Her home is situated next to paddy fields on the banks of the Chalakkudy river in Puthuparamba. “Water began to rise when the dams were opened,” she recalled. “I have lost everything.”

S Ambili, third from left, with her family at the relief camp. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

TK Babu, 45, a daily wage labourer, said he has been thinking about his future. “I escaped the floods,” he said. “Now I have to think about my future. My house in west Chalakkudy is lying under water. It may have become unusable.”

Many people who stayed put in their flooded homes rather than moving to relief camps said they fear starving to death unless the state helps them, and soon.

Jijo, 40, whose family has been staying on the second floor of their partially submerged home, said they have nothing to eat. “Our pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears,” he said. “We may starve to death.”

The lack of communication facilities is a major problem. AK Shabu, 37, had come all the way from Thrissur city to Chalakkudy on Saturday, looking for a relative he could not contact on phone. “I found him today,” Shabu said. “He was unreachable all these days because of the disruption in the mobile phone networks.”

Ambili said many inmates at the relief camp have been trying to contact their relatives on phone, but to no avail. “I have relatives in Thiruvananthapuram,” she said. “I could not contact them all these days. Many people in this camp are facing the same problem.”

'My house in west Chalakkudy is lying under water. It may have become unusable,' says TK Babu. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen

Coming challenges

KB Sunil Kumar, former head of the Chalakkudy municipality, said it will many years to get the local economy back on its feet. “Businesspeople and farmers suffered heavy losses,” he explained. “People lost houses. The losses are unimaginable.”

The more immediate concern, though, is containing infections that invariably come with floods. “We have to brace ourselves for the spread of water-borne diseases,” Kumar said. “It is the next thing on our agenda after we complete this rehabilitation process.”

Chalakkudy town at 6 pm on Saturday. The town remains without power and phone connectivity. Photo credit: TA Ameerudheen