FOUR days after water submerged Pandanad, Army personnel who made their way into the town run over by the overflowing Pampa river found the marooned residents, mostly aged, reluctant to vacate their homes.
Located 51 km from the district headquarters of Alappuzha, most parts of Pandanad had been inaccessible to rescue efforts all these days.
On Sunday, as personnel of the Army’s Madras Engineering Group made their way in on boats along the flooded roads, lined by huge houses, The Indian Express joined one of the teams.
The ground floor of most houses along the Pandanad-Parumala road in Karuvelil village, and the cars parked outside them, were found under 6-7 ft water. But people who had taken refuge on the upper floors refused to move out despite repeated requests by rescue officials.
Anoop George, a local IT professional who was helping guide one of the boats, said the children of the stranded residents had been calling seeking that their parents be evacuated. “Most of them work elsewhere in the country or abroad, and their aged parents live alone. They have been making distress calls,” he said.
Passing the houses, the leader of the six-member Army team rowing the boat, Subedar Babu M M, gave sharp, long blows from a whistle, trying to attract the attention of the people inside the houses. But many, including some youngsters and children, looked on impassively.
The Subedar urged, “Please come out, it is not safe to stay here. We are here to save you. If the situation worsens, it would be difficult for us to come again.”
Sanjay John, who is employed in the Gulf, was among those who said he would stay put along with his wife and two children. “We have been staying on the first floor after the ground floor got flooded,” he said.
As the boat stopped near a two-storey house, Babu sent four men in. Ten minutes later, they returned saying its occupants T K Thomas, 92, and wife Mariyam Thomas, 86, were adamant not to move to a relief camp or to a relative’s home. However, their son K T Koshi and his wife Jaya, who are to return to Qatar, where they live on Tuesday, climbed onto the rescue boat.
Said Koshi, “I have been urging my parents to leave, but they won’t. We have stocked all the provisions on the first floor, but who will prepare the food now as the domestic help too can’t reach? Both are chronic diabetic patients… I wanted them to move to my sister’s house at Changanassery.”
Babu confessed that with the Pampa just 500 metres from the Thomas home, there was no guarantee the rescue teams could come to them again.
Congress MP Kodikunnil Suresh, who represents the region, said 5,000 people were stranded in Chengannur alone, the Assembly constituency under which Pandanad falls. “The district administration has decided to forcibly take them out of the flooded houses now.”