As the rain poured down mercilessly, the family trudged on in silence, plastic sheets on some heads, eyes transfixed on the roads.
The road leads to the very death trap they escaped a few days ago.
“We are going back to our village. There are so many people going back,” said Bhola Paswan, 45, returning to Itahri village in Madhepura district.
Thousands of people are refusing to be evacuated or started to return to their villages on Thursday, lulled into a false sense of security by the receding waters. But the government and experts said the Kosi, India’s most notorious and unpredictable river, could sweep away villages yet again until October 15, when it is expected to finally recede for the year.
More than 1.1 lakh hectares of farmland is submerged.
“We are really getting worried… we hope this does not trigger a chain reaction,” said Pratyaya Amrit, additional secretary in the disaster management department. “It is really dangerous — all of September and at least until early October, the water level could surge any time.”
The signs are grim: Patna, which normally gets 1,100 millimetres of rain until this time, has already got 1,600 millimetres.
Compared to the several thousand people being evacuated every day at one point in Purnia, an army officer said his men had been able to evacuate less than 100 on Thursday.
Officers said residents have told them that they would rather be at home because the water has gone down, and that they want to safeguard their belongings at home amid a lot of night-time thefts in the region.
At Bhangha, where motorboats have been taking off every day to rescue villagers in far-off villages, the navy’s Lieutenant Commander Geo Matthews stood looking at the returning boats, carrying just a trickle of people.
Behind him, a thick column of villagers walked back to their villages, wading through ankle-deep water.
“We had rescued many of these same people over the past week. Now they want to go back. I don’t know why — there is still danger,” he said.
In another part of the area, an officer of the National Disaster Response Force — which was the first rescue team to arrive — is dealing with a similar challenge.
“We are told of a site by villagers, we reach the site, it might take us two hours — and when we do, they tell us ‘give us food, we don’t want to go’. Now what do we do,” he asked, declining to be named. “We are rescue guys, we don’t give food! It wastes valuable time we could have used to save someone else.”