Kerala Floods: The Story of Chengannur’s Rebirth   

This is the story of Chengannur which was inundated by floods but has been resurrected by the power of the people.

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Video Editor: Mohd Irshad
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Smitha TK

It was pouring heavily. Water was entering the homes. Treading through waist-deep water, everyone ran towards the school. Standing under the tiled-roof, they watched the river stream break the compound wall and rush towards the first step of the building. It was time to find higher ground.

But where could they go?

Tying ropes from one corner to another, 71 of them crossed the gates of the school to the house on the opposite side. The water couldn’t reach the second floor. They were safe. For the next 3 days, they fed the kids and pregnant women water from the small tank, while others relied on the rainwater. They made stew out of leftover vegetables and used the broken furniture as firewood. Finally, help reached.

Today, most relief camps in Chengannur in Kerala have been closed and people have begun rebuilding their homes. But for people like these 71, there is not much of home left.

No utensils, no TV, no mixer... there is nothing left. I am not going to go see my house. If I do, then I would want to die that very minute.
Njanamma, Resident, Chengannur

Help Was One Loud Cry Away

The small town of Chengannur in Alappuzha was at the brink of losing most of its inhabitants to the floods. Thanks to one person, Chengannur gained overnight popularity with help coming in from all over the world. MLA Saji Cherian broke down on a night news show and begged for helicopters to be brought in immediately, else, he said, at least 50,000 will be washed away.

Within hours, 7 helicopters rushed in, Navy and NDRF came in with their boats, and rescue began.

The MLA smiles with gratitude saying they have now lost count of the number of trucks and cars that have came in from all over India to help rebuild Chengannur.

Ammachi doesn’t want to go home. She knows there won’t be anything left and she won’t be able to take it.
Ammachi doesn’t want to go home. She knows there won’t be anything left and she won’t be able to take it.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Remembering Superheroes

When I visited a camp in Chengannur, I found all the residents thanking one police man who was cleaning up as he spoke. Turns out he was one of the persons who rescued 71 people from the rooftop.

Well, Sunderlal was a superhero in many other stories as well.

Few of the 71 people who spent 3 nights on a terrace waiting for help.
Few of the 71 people who spent 3 nights on a terrace waiting for help.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

In the corner of the room sat Sarojini in a daze.

She was with her husband, stuck in their house the day the floods struck. They tried standing on furniture for a while and then began using tables and chairs to guard themselves from doors breaking open. Soon, the two drifted apart to different rooms. When the rescue team arrived, they broke down the roof and found Sarojini holding on to the bars of a window with water up till her nose. Her husband was on the brink of death.

Sarojini had a near death experience. She is still in shock.
Sarojini had a near death experience. She is still in shock.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
His eyes were all black and dirty and he was losing consciousness. There was just one feet difference between his head and the ceiling. If we were late by a minute, he wouldn’t be alive today.
Sunderlal, Constable, Chengannur

Democracy, Like Clockwork

The death toll could’ve been way higher if not for the synchronised work by all departments of the administration – MLA, Collector, police, Panchayat – since the first day.

I spent hours chasing the MLA from one venue to another because he was always on the go, visiting relief camps, giving people assurance of help and attending meetings.

Yes, government did its bit, but it was really because of people from all over India who lend a helping hand. Now over 90 percent of houses have been cleaned up and within 5 days the rest also will be. I take great pride that in 15 days Chengannur has got a rebirth.
Saji Cheriyan, MLA, Chengannur

Cheriyan has been conducting meetings every day with top officials, panchayat representatives and those in charge of various relief camps. Every representative needs to submit a perfect tally of the number of people rescued, provided relief to and those who will need comprehensive help as they have nothing left.

Cheriyan has been conducting meetings every day.
Cheriyan has been conducting meetings every day.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
The people’s man has sure won a hundred brownie points and has become the town’s darling.

No Power Like Student Power

The people of Chengannur cannot stop gushing about the stellar work done by students of Chengannur College of Engineering.

A group of 40 students were stuck in the college campus and when the floods became worse, they moved to a higher floor in the building. Now that they were safe, they didn’t want to rest. A few hours of brain-storming, scribbles on a notepad and frantic typing on the laptop later, they set up the first camp of Chengannur.

A few courageous and brilliant swimmers among the students braved the waters and began rescuing hundreds everyday.

The team that is responsible for saving the lives of hundreds. Presenting the heroes of Chengannur Engineering College.
The team that is responsible for saving the lives of hundreds. Presenting the heroes of Chengannur Engineering College.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
Earlier, seniors and juniors would always fight, so much that it would even go to the cops. But during this time, everyone held hands and saved lives together. Today we have a bond that goes beyond. And we know we are capable of managing any situation in the future if we are together as a team.
Akshay, student, Chengannur College of Engineering
  • Students divided themselves into groups to take care of the cooking, segregation of relief material, registering details of the rescued and checking on kids and the old. 
  • Soon, the people who were rescued joined in helping the students cook.
  • Classrooms turned into dormitories and auditoriums into cafeteria.
  • Even the MLA Saji Cheriyan sat with the people for an afternoon meal.
  • Their push on social media got a lot of relief materials to their college and  it became easy to support hundreds of people.

The people who were rescued stayed in the classrooms and benevolent donors kept flooding the campus with truckloads of food, clothes, bedsheets and mats.

The students then created a software and maintained a database of everyone in Chengannur, their current status and which relief centre they were housed in.

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were spammed with statuses and updates of Chengannur and in a way, these students were responsible for making the hashtag trend.

This was a huge relief for so many outside Chengannur who couldn’t reach their near and dear ones.

This flood was an equaliser. Everyone became equal and forgot religion, caste and all differences. They lived and shared everything under the same roof.
Navendu, Student, Chengannur College of Engineering

Today, almost all relief camps have been shut and people have returned to their houses but for some, there isn’t a building in the address they once lived in.

But the fighting spirit is commendable.

My 100-year-old parents, my wife and I were stuck in our house. I can’t walk and neither can any of them. But help found us. So did hot food, clothes, utensils and so much love. Yes, we lost everything. But look! We have been given most of it back. So what is there to weep about?
Dorai, Resident, Chengannur
For some, there is nothing left of home.
For some, there is nothing left of home.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Now, the sun is out and the water has receded. The wounds have healed but the scars remain.

But what is heart-warming is that despite all the loss, the people aren’t waiting for the government to make their situation better. Since the first day, they have tied up their sarees and mundus and have been busy cleaning up to give Chengannur another life.

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