‘My friends died in their sleep’: Uttarakhand rain fury leaves trail of despair
Of the 34 deaths that the Uttarakhand government has confirmed after a record spell of rain, as well as a cloudburst in the state, at least 18 have been recorded in the Nainital district alone
Dehradun/Haldwani: Early on Tuesday morning, 20-year-old Kashiram and five of his colleagues were asleep in a makeshift shanty, right next to the building they worked in as labourers. Like the others, Kashiram was in Mukteshwar near Nainital -- 786km away from home in Champaran, Bihar -- part of the construction activity that now dots the mountains of Uttarakhand. For the past few months, the shanty had been home, an instrument in his sustenance.
But, on Tuesday, the wall of the building next to the shanty came crashing down, burying them in the rubble.
It nearly became his death of him.
Kashiram remembers very little, except that huge quantity of mulch and wet dirt burying his erstwhile home. And then, personnel of the State Disaster Relief Force (SDRF) pulled him out from under the debris. His colleagues, all five of them, weren’t as lucky.
“We were all asleep and it happened all of a sudden. We could do nothing to save ourselves. While I was fortunate, my other friends weren’t, and died in their sleep,” said Kashiram.
They had all planned to leave for Bihar by the end of the month, in time for Diwali. Now, he will have to carry the news of death when he does travel. “We were going to go after doing some shopping for our family members. I never thought that something like this would happen,” Kashiram added.
Speaking about the incident later, Nainital’s superintendent of police Preeti Priyadarshini said, “The local police and SDRF had rushed to the spot for rescue operation in which five bodies were retrieved while one was rescued and sent to a nearby hospital for treatment. A total of 17 people have died and 915 people were rescued from various places of the district in the last 24 hours.”
Of the 34 deaths that the Uttarakhand government has confirmed after a record spell of rain, as well as a cloudburst in the state, at least 18 have been recorded in the Nainital district alone. According to the Dehradun centre of the India Meteorological Department, its station in Mukteshwar, in the Nainital district, recorded 340.8mm rainfall in the past 24 hours against the previous record of 254.5mm recorded on September 18, 1914.
Some kilometres away, in Nainital city, Narottam Bahuguna, a 58-year-old employee of Daya Shankar Bisht College could feel the unnatural rain pound the ceiling of his home. But the hills are no stranger to a downpour, and Bahuguna went ahead and stepped out for a scheduled doctor’s appointment at the city government hospital at 7:30 am, with the outpatient department set to open at 8am.
Hours have passed, and Bahuguna is now safe back at home, but the sights he saw still leave him trembling. Naini Lake, the lifeblood of the city, was pouring out into the streets, inundating roads, homes, and commercial establishments. “I can never forget the mental picture in my life. It was the first time that I saw so much water on the streets of Nainital. The water from Naini was gushing through the streets in a torrent,” Bahuguna said.
In the middle of the road, wading through an ever-increasing current of water, Bahuguna said he did all he could to reach the side, and hung on to raised metal boundary railings. “That is where I was for two hours until an army rescue team spotted me and rescued me. They dropped me at the hospital because that was closer. Only six hours later, when the water subsided a little was I able to come home,” Bahuguna said.
Close by, 45-year-old Vicky Rathore has a similar story to tell. Like all Tuesday mornings, Rathore made his way to his small hole in the wall eatery on the banks of the Naini lake. With the water constantly rising outside his small shop, Rathore too waited and prayed, until he was rescued by the army. “The lake was my life. I never thought that I would see a version of it like this,” Rathore said.
Deputy inspector general of Kumaon range Nilesh Anand Bharne, who spent the day on the ground monitoring the rescue in Nainital, said: “All the available force has been deployed on the ground to carry out the rescue. We have deployed our forces in small teams along with the central forces which came to Nainital on Tuesday afternoon. We are providing every possible help from medicine to food packets. We just urge people to stay home.”