Kerala flood: The team of five beyond call of duty

Alappuzha: The Kerala flood has seen a raft of ordinary folks turning into unlikely heroes by coming to the rescue of hundreds of thousands trapped in their own homes, without any invitation or offer of reward.

Among them is a group of five army men on Onam vacation who abandoned their families to rescue their fellow human being in trouble.

The youth, Bichu Chandran, Akhil, Hari Santh, Adarsh Joy and Ananth were all working with Indian Army in different states. They had come to their home state Kerala on vacation to celebrate Onam with their families. They hail from Alappattu, near Karunagappally, Kollam district of Kerala.

On August 15 when they heard about the threatening flood situation, they didn’t have a second thought but left for Kuttanad in Alappuzha, one of the worst affected regions in Kerala.

Kuttanad is the lowest-lying area in India and is known for its unique below sea level farming system. From Kuttanad, known as the Rice Bowl of Kerala, around 270,000 people had to be evacuated when the Kakki in Pathanamthitta dam opened its floodgates to Pamba River.

They themselves were victims of nature’s fury in the past.

“We ourselves had seen the impacts of Ockhi and tsunami in our village, Alappattu,” says Akhil.

Being army men they were quick to respond to the situation. Bu they had another advantage too. They were from the Communication and Mechanical wing of the Indian army. This helped them to carry out rescue operations by adapting some of the wireless sets the fishermen use for communication while venturing into sea for fishing. 

“We used big boats in which 85 people could be rescued at a time. On a single day, we managed to do up to 15 rescue missions and this continued for about four days,”  says Bichu Chandran.

The five men along with a scuba diver rescued people from various regions of Kuttanad and Mannar in Pathanamthitta.

In between they also had a bizarre experience of being stranded in an unknown zone for about a day and half. News reports spread all over Kerala about a missing rescue team and some even thought the worst has happened to them.  

It started on August 20 when they were in Mannar, Pathananthitta.  While on a return mission, they saw a young man crying for help. His name was also Akhil. He was desperately seeking help to rescue his family stranded in their house.

“There was no time to think, we didn’t even notice that it had been days since we were into the operations, we at once agreed to help him,” says Adarsh Joy.

The men set out for helping Akhil’s family. On the way, the men saw a woman and her daughter with a baby barely days old, stranded in their house. They were rescued first and shifted to a relief camp.

Reaching Akhil’s house was not an easy task, because of the gushing water. They met a man Kunjumon, who was also struggling to reach his family in a relief camp. Kunjumon acted as a guide to reach Akhil’s house. 

They rescued the people who were stranded on the second floor of the house.

“But the mishap occurred on our way back when we lost our way. We had no idea in which direction we were going, we had lost the wireless, our mobile phones. We were completely stranded for a day and night, with no connection with outside world. Finally we started rowing in one direction and reached a point where there was less water,” Bichu Chandran narrates the ordeal.

As Kerala is embarking on its long and arduous path of recovery with not enough central support but with massive outpouring of love and aid from people all over India and abroad, the men are about to leave the state and rejoin their duties in a couple of days.

For the army men it is nothing but a vacation well spent.

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