Two young bureaucrats were at the helm of coordinating the administrative efforts in Kerala's flood-hit Chengannur when the district was cut off and inundated. At the same time 2 lakh people had to be evacuated from Kuttanad almost simultaneously. The bureaucrats' efforts have paid off and lakhs of people are finally set to return to Kuttanad in Kerala's Alappuzha in hundreds of boats as water levels recede. District administration is set to begin en masse cleaning drives.
S Suhas, 30, a Collector from Karnataka, says the disaster has changed him as a person.
"In Chengannur, we didn't even have one boat. We had to arrange for 100 boats in just one night. I realised the only way to get to these boats, were through fishermen. I appealed for help to fishermen and they played a huge role in the rescue operations. The river had changed its course and divided Chengannur into two, with one part trapped and cut off. It was quite a task to maintain my calm," S Suhas told NDTV.
"In a minute, I was getting at least 12 panic calls. They all had to be answered. My officials were all working round the clock. As a collector, I am the head of District Disaster Management Authority and I can't appear weak among my subordinates." Mr Suhas said and thanked his family for support. He took charge of the district barely two months ago.
But as defence forces worked their way through Chengannur, with helicopters and boats, Operation Kuttanad had to start on August 16 on war footing. The Sub Collector, 29-year-old Krishna Teja from Andhra Pradesh, also leading on the ground, had just 9 months of experience since his 2-year training period finished.
After three days in water Krishna Teja realised what a great task he was doing. Mr Teja said he did not pay heed to the criticism and focused on saving lives even though people said evacuation of 2 lakh people was impossible on such short notice.
"The district administration and collector's focus was already on Chengannur. That's when we got the alert about water level increasing in Sabarimala. Finance Minister Thomas Isaac and I knew we had to act immediately, because Kuttanad is already below sea level," Krishna Teja told NDTV.
"Fishermen are the unsung heroes. Only two groups that could first help initially - were fishermen and NDRF," Mr Teja said.
Around 2 lakh people were evacuated in 68 hours, mostly on fishing boats.
Hundreds of people have died in the flood and more than one million people were forced to abandon their homes and take shelter in relief camps.
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