For about 50 families who were displaced from their homes by the floods in South Assam, train coaches served as temporary shelters of refuge. Provided by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR), 15 spare coaches were placed at the Silchar station in Assam’s Barak Valley. Platforms — in the Katakhal, Algapur and Salchapra stations — became homes for close to 1585 people. With unprecedented rainfall in Assam from June 14, these stations became islands of refuge for many stranded travellers as well those whose homes were rendered uninhabitable.
In Assam, the districts worst affected were Karbi Anglong, Dima Hasao, Karimganj, Hailakandi and Cachar. 435 relief camps and relief distribution centres were set up with around 1.6 lakh people staying in the relief camps.
“While the hill section from Lumding to Badarpur was affected by landslides, the Badarpur-Silchar area was flooded by waters of local rivers. The Silchar and Karimganj areas being low bore the brunt of the flooding caused by heavy rainfall in the Dima Hasao area,” said Pranav Jyoti Sharma, chief PRO, NFR.
“We were closely watching the water levels. The moment the Barak river hit 21 metres, we started evacuating people from the colonies,” said S. Umesh, Area Officer, Badarpur, NFR. The team used boats and motor trollies to rescue stranded people as well as bring in medical aid and relief materials. “Hailakandi was the most affected district. The only way to reach the station was via boat or through motor trollies,” he said.
While the waters have receded, there are approximately 150 people in 40 tent shelters at the Katakhal station and 25 people in 4 tents at the Aglapur station. “Their houses need extensive repair, so they have been unable to go back despite the water levels receding,” said Umesh, adding that people started coming into the stations from June 15. “Families with women and children moved into the waiting halls while families who had younger men were put up in make-shift tents on the platforms,” he said.
While floods wreak havoc every year, this year the situation was especially grim — “This is the first time that we have placed coaches on the platforms for accommodating flood-affected people,” said Sharma. The team used coaches that were already parked in Silchar owing to the disruption of connectivity for those few days. “They have not been withdrawn from any other regular service. So we were able to provide shelter to marooned people without hampering coach availability in any other train,” he added.
Among those sheltered at Kathakhal, there was a 3-month-old baby with her aged grandmother as well as a couple with their 6-month-old. “They had no baby food on them — we bought them milk and other supplies,” said Umesh. The NFR has also distributed 20,000 litres of water via water tankers to many affected areas that do not have access to drinking water.
As a precautionary step earlier this month, the NFR had strategically placed 184 wagonloads of boulders — called the Monsoon Reserve Stock — across the zones. These were meant to be rolled out “at the slightest hint of danger like abnormal rise of water level, damage to bridge approaches etc.” “These came in handy restoration work of Lumding- Badarpur section. The most critical location near Bandarkhal, which witnessed a major landslide almost 40 metres in length, was fed by boulders from Badarpur. Ready availability of boulders enabled us to ensure quick restoration,” he said.
As more rains are predicted in Assam, the stocks have been replenished and the authorities are on high alert.