In Bihar’s Madhubani, survivors sleep among cattle after worst flood in 32 years
Chalidhar Sadai, 51, squats impatiently on the muddy floor, atop the western embankment of Kamala river in the evening as his four grandchildren sleep by his side in the open on a tarpaulin sheet distributed by a group of philanthropists from Mumbai.
The silence of the evening is broken by the croaking of frogs and toads and hissing of reptiles from the floodwater on either sides of the embankment in the village of Jhanjharpur in Madhubani, about 175 km north of Bihar’s capital Patna.
Chalidhar is worried about the snakes that often sneak into the rough and ready beds of the children. “Early this morning, we killed two snakes that came very close to our children, who were sleeping,” said Bandhan Sadai, his friend and neighbour, also camping with his family on the embankment since July 14 the flood forced them and hundreds of others in Gopalkhan, Mehat, Bhalli Mehat and at least a dozen other adjoining villages in Madhubani’s Jhanjharpur block to flee and take shelter on the embankment.
Heavy rain in upper regions of Nepal through the entire second week of July followed by heavy rainfall in and around Madhubani district during the same period caused flash floods in the Kamala river which originates from Nepal and flows through Madhubani which is about 70 km from the border.
The Kamala river breached its banks in Madhubani and eventually broke the western embankment at several places in Jhanjharpur block causing one of the worst flood tragedies in recent times in the state. According to the state water resources department officials, this is the worst flood to hit Madhubani in 32 years as the flood water rose to 54.5 meters. It broke the 1987 record when the highest level of flood water was recorded at 50.36 meters.
Locals said the alarm bells had started ringing on July 13 when the sluice gates on the western embankment of Kamala were damaged by flash floods. However, since damage to the sluice gates had been a regular affair for last several years and the department officials had promptly arrived to repair them, they were at peace in their homes.
“The incessant rains and rising water level were certainly worrying us but we never thought that its force would breach the mighty embankment,” said Pravin Kumar Jha, a farmer from Mehat village.
“We returned to our homes around midnight unaware of the lurking danger. The furious flood eventually breached the embankment on at least three different places in Jhanjharpur, the worst being at Gopalkhan where a vast patch got washed away in the spate and submerged our villages,” Jha added.
Chalidhar said the gap between life and death for his family and him was barely a few seconds.
“Our house was right on the foot of the embankment. Minutes before cracks appeared and a portion of the embankment caved in, we had run to its safer portion and saved our lives. We saw our homes falling like pins and getting washed away in the current,” he said.
Many who had multistory buildings and had climbed on their rooftops hoping they would be safe there were rescued by the NDRF teams which carried out a professional rescue and relief operation over the next one week.
“We rescued around 700 people from Gopalkhan and 600 from Narwar, the worst affected areas in the deluge,” said NDRF inspector, Rajeev Ranjan.
Floodwater has since receded and the Kamala is back to its natural course, but the deluge has left behind a trail of devastation.
Uprooted trees, crumbled homes, damaged roads with its flanks washed away and caved in culverts speak volumes of the destruction.
Parts of Gopalkhan, especially where the flood had breached the embankment, are still submerged in the deluge. There is no trace of any of those 100-odd concrete houses.
“We are four brothers and all of us had separate homes in this now submerged village. The gushing water has left behind 40-45 feet deep craters on the land where once our homes existed. Where shall we go now,” lamented Bidesi Mukhiya, 55, camping on the embankment under the sky with other fellow villagers and the livestock for the last 10 days.
While the men and children sleep in the open along with cattle, goats and sheep, women are spending nights under small makeshift tents made of plastic and tarpaulin sheets to protect their modesty.
Ask any villager on the embankment why they have not moved to safer places, and pat comes the reply, “The government is yet to rehabilitate us.”
Community kitchens set up by the administration are serving meals to the displaced only once a day at noon, albeit Madhubani district magistrate Shirsat Kapil Ashok disagrees, stating strict instructions have been given to the kitchen in-charges to serve meals twice a day.
He said, the administration is soon going to set up flood protection centres in the affected areas. And once the water recedes, teams would start visiting the affected villages to assess the damage caused to the homes. “Under the house damage grants, there are provisions for grant of Rs 95,000 for concrete houses and Rs.13,500 for huts made of mud and hay.”
Sambhu Kumar, sub divisional officer (SDO), water resources department, Jhanjharpur, said people camping on the embankment has made repair of the washed away portion extremely difficult for them. “We are working very hard to repair the embankment sooner to prevent further flash floods and restore connectivity with villages that have been cut off after the embankment breach.”
The SDO blamed narrowing of the river’s flow due to construction of four small bridges by NHAI between the eastern and western embankments as the main reason for the deluge. He said obstruction of the river’s natural flow is leading to silt accumulation, which in turn is raising the level of the river bed. “The deluge is man-made disaster,” he said.