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Bengal flood: IAF chopper winches 9 marooned villagers in dramatic rescue operation

More than 23 lakh people are affected in over 165 villages in the 11 flood-hit districts of West Bengal.

india Updated: Jul 30, 2017 10:26 IST
Koushik Dutta
Koushik Dutta
Hindustan Times, Midnapore
West Bengal flood,IAF chopper,West Midnapore
People paddle their boats as they try to move to safer places along a flooded street in West Midnapore district of West Bengal. (REUTERS File Photo )

Forty-five-year old Paresh Mondal had seen people clinging to a rope dangling from a helicopter in movies, but never imagined that someday he would do the maneuvering himself to save his life.

On Saturday morning, Mondal and eight others marooned inside a two-storied house at flood-hit Pratappur village in the Ghatal area of West Midnapore were winched up by a rescue team of the Indian Air Force.

Seven children were among those airlifted from the flood-ravaged village using winch in a heart-stopping rescue operation.

The villagers moved into the building on Wednesday when rest of the houses in Pratappur got inundated following a breach in embankment on the Silabati river.

Thirteen persons have died since July 21 and more than 23 lakh people are affected in over 165 villages in the 11 flood-hit districts of the state.

Nearly 45,000 people have taken shelter in over 2,000 relief camps set up in the affected districts.

The West Midnapore district magistrate sought help from the air force on Friday to evacuate villagers trapped in the Pratappur building after speedboats deployed by the local administration failed to reach the building because of strong current in the flood water.

The Russian Mi5 V5 helicopter from Barrackpore air force station in the North 24 Parganas district was used in the first-of-its-kind rescue operation in Bengal.

Since there was no place to land and the house was surrounded by tall trees, the pilots had to hover over the old building at the fixed spot and altitude.

IAF personnel made their first rescue attempt on Friday. But completely alien to such rescue operations, people trapped inside the building wanted to wait for boats.

“To build their confidence, the rescue team demonstrated the whole process winching up a policeman and a local youth but still nobody was coming forward. Since it was getting dark the helicopter returned to Barrackpore,” said an Eastern Command spokesperson.

“I am still shaking at the thought of hanging so high. But ultimately we made it. There are more people in the house and some of them were very old. They refused to leave. Probably they were too scared to hang in mid air,” said Mandal.

“We spent sleepless nights in the house, fearing that it would collapse any moment. The waves kept hammering its old walls,” he added.

“Some people are still trapped in that house in Pratappur. They refused to be airlifted like the others. Apparently they are too scared”, said Bharati Ghosh, police chief of West Midnapore.

Arpita Mondal, another rescued villager, was in a state of shock. “All I can say is I am alive. Nothing else matters,” she exclaimed.

They were taken to a safe place near Ghatal town, about nine km from Pratappur. People from flood-hit Manoharpur, Rasulpur and Harisingpur were also taken to safe areas.

A second helicopter was used in the afternoon to airdrop food and provisions.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Jul 30, 2017 10:25 IST