“Dharan futala, dharan futala (The dam has breached, the dam has breached).”
Narayan Gaikwad and his family were having dinner Tuesday night when they heard the warning that changed their lives. “I ran to the cattle shed and cut the ropes holding the cows. Then, we ran up the slope behind the house. We stayed up there the whole night in the rain,” he says.
With the death toll in the floods caused by a breach in the Tiware dam in Ratnagiri’s Chiplun taluk rising to 18, with five people still missing, 62-year-old Gaikwad, his wife, son and grandson were among the lucky ones — they survived.
But then, tragedy had struck next door in the Bhendewadi hamlet of Tiware village, barely 100 metres from the dam wall. “Our family was one of the few that survived because our house was on the edge of the flow. When we came back early in the morning, we saw that the houses of our neighbours, the Chavan families, were not there,” he says.
“We have lived with them from generations. Fate wiped out these families from their roots. I don’t know whether to feel lucky that my family survived or mourn the death of people who were like my own,” says Gaikwad.
That was not all. “We also saw that our rice crop on the one-acre farm next to the house had been washed away,” he says.
In Bhendewadi, the deluge washed away 12 of the 17 houses, and a temple — the remaining houses, including that of Gaikwad, suffered heavy damages. The residents are now being sheltered in a school, a few kilometres away.
The dam, which is located off the Karad-Chiplun road and had undergone temporary repairs recently, started overflowing Tuesday evening following heavy rain.
Around 9.30 pm, a part of the wall developed a breach. Soon, a large portion was completely demolished by the water, which surrounded at least six villages or hamlets with a population of around 3,000 further downstream, cutting them off.
According to officials, search operations are still on to locate the missing. At the school, meanwhile, Ajit Chavan, who lost his parents and brother, is struggling to voice his grief. “Ranjit (his brother) went to take the bike and never came back,” he says.
On Thursday, as one of the seven bodies found was brought for autopsy at the sub-district hospital at Kamathe near Chiplun, the people waiting outside gathered around. Within minutes, a man identified it as that of his younger brother and broke down.
“It is difficult to see people waiting for news of their loved ones and breaking down as the bodies arrive. I can’t imagine what they might be going through,” says Abaji Shinde, who is from a neighbouring village and has volunteered to assist in rescue operations.
“I think the tough conditions here have made these people resilient, but I hope they have the strength to cope with such great losses,” he says.