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Kerala floods India
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Disaster zone.
SINK OR SWIM

Snakes and waist-high water: Surviving 40 hours in the Kerala floods

By Naveen Murali

Thirty-two-year-old Naveen Murali is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode and group brand manager at Asian Paints in Mumbai. He, along with his parents, was stuck at their home in Aluva, Ernakulam, during the Kerala flood. Here he narrates his ordeal.

I work in Mumbai, and I was in Kochi for a meeting. I had a flight scheduled back for the night of Aug. 15. It got cancelled because water had begun entering the Kochi airport by that morning. But I didn’t expect anything bad.

Somewhere around 7pm is when we suddenly saw water on the road leading to our house. By that time, it had come up to knee-deep. We couldn’t even drive out. Still, we felt it was possibly an anomaly. Kerala gets a lot of rain. We stayed indoors.

We stayed indoors thinking the water might go down.

But by 11pm, we had water getting into the ground floor of our house. Between 8pm and 9pm, we had anyway started moving some of our stuff to the first floor. We moved some of the essentials, some electronics. The furniture was on the ground floor. By morning the water was almost waist-high on the ground floor. There was no way out.

We were trying to figure out how to escape. One of the neighbours said they would walk to the main road and figure out what to do next. Now, my mom has a problem with her back and her leg, so even normally she can’t walk much. But we packed our bags around 10am on day two and actually came downstairs. The water was almost waist-high and I did not know how my mom would walk.

That’s when we actually saw a small snake, so I thought it was too risky and we went back upstairs.

We began calling all the rescue numbers; they were all engaged. I was checking online. Day two was the worst; everyone was in distress, it was raining, water levels were rising.

One of our relatives was with the local TV channel and another was with Doordarshan (India’s state-run TV channel). They contacted us and asked us to make a video so that they could put it on their channel. I made a video for them and shared it on WhatsApp, giving our details and location; I posted the same video on Facebook, sharing our status with some photos.

This video went viral. And after around four hours, people finally began calling me.

Our hopes were really high. We got calls from the Ernakulam control room as well as the state capital control room, and the police bureau. We were like, okay, this is all over.

And then nothing happened. It’s possible the number of boats was less at that time.

I figured our only hope was the helicopters. We got a large stick and tied a red cloth to it and waved it in the air on the terrace. Towards the end of the day, we realised even that’s not working, so we got (steel) plates and banged them as somebody online said high-frequency sound might be heard. We got a torch and flashed it from the terrace. We tried all of this but nothing happened.

We were hoping that once it gets dark, we’ll possibly catch their attention. We even burnt papers, hoping the helicopters would notice a fire or the smoke. Nothing happened. We did not know that no rescue operations happen once it gets dark.

The mobile was our last ray of hope.

Again there were calls coming in. People took our location and coordinates. I tweeted to a lot of ministers; my wife, brother, relatives, and friends messaged and called a lot of people. I even had MLAs and MPs calling me all through the night, but nothing happened.

We did not know what to do. Food was not a problem, we had moved that stuff up. The biggest problem we were about to face was the mobile phone—I had power banks using which I was recharging my phone, and the mobile was our last ray of hope as we were still at least getting to know what was happening. I was switching it on once in three hours to see if somebody had messaged. Thousands were calling and that was taking up my battery.

By day three, our larger plan was saving everything. Now we were like, we never know when we’re going to get out. We have to plan that out. We had very less water; we would possibly have lasted another six to seven hours at best. We would not have seen through that night. And I was already at 30% battery.

On day three, again a lot of people called, random strangers who had become closer over the last day.

We were periodically running to the terrace to try and catch a helicopter. Once we saw a boat really far away. We started howling at it and caught its attention. 

When the boat came in, somebody climbed directly onto the balcony and tied a rope there. Getting down from the balcony onto the boat was again a challenge. We had a ladder nearby, and the rescuers got the ladder and got my mom and my dad down. I went down and actually swam through the water to the rescue boat. We had been stranded for about 40 hours.

Now, the problem was the strong flow of water. We are in a lane off the main road. Once we came out on the main road we saw it had literally become a river. The flow was so strong and the boat had to go against it; and this was an inflatable boat. They planned to take us to a relief home, but thankfully we did not end up there. At the end of the day, that relief home itself was marooned and people had to be rescued from there.

Kerala will bounce back because of the people.

The rescuers dropped us at the metro station as the metro was running. The metro was the biggest relief at this time because no bus service was operating. We went to a relative’s house one-and-a-half hours away. 

Today (Aug. 19), the water has begun receding near parts of my house. 

We would like to go back to our house in a day or two, at least to check on its state—we don’t know how bad the damage is. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. We don’t even know if there will be reptiles inside.

That my parents stayed without panicking or repeatedly planning things was what kept us going throughout this. What’s unbelievable is the number of people who coordinated rescue efforts. I am sure the government is doing enough work but it’s unbelievable how civilians got involved to do whatever is being done. Even our rescue boat had two fire and rescue personnel and three volunteers. 

If you ask me why Kerala will bounce back, it will bounce back because of the people: regular people on the road trying to help everyone.

As told to Maria Thomas. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com