They were everywhere. Standing on the roads, sitting on the pavements, walking in groups to the metro station or huddling together to eat the food and water handed over freely by good Samaritans. There were hardly any police personnel in sight, neither to guide the crowds nor to man the traffic, but a sea of people kept streaming in and out of the Aluva Metro Station, without any chaos.
The metro station had literally become a refugee centre with hundreds coming in every hour. People of all ages, families, students and senior citizens came in lorries, trucks and tipper vehicles. With many portions of the national highway and other roads linking Chalakudy, Angamaly to Aluva still flooded, the only option for people was to get on big vehicles.
With houses and colleges flooded, thousands of people are dependent on these big vehicles running for free, to reach Aluva. And from Aluva, with the road to Kochi city still cut off at many places, they board the Kochi Metro that has been providing rides for free.
Jia, Benny, Francis and Shelby, all residents of Piravom in Ernakulam district had been marooned at the Divine Retreat Centre in Maravoor for three days. Though the meditation class was wound up a day before schedule, the inmates could not step out.
"It was like being on an island. There were around 1000 of us on the third and fourth floor. It was a frightening experience," recalled Jia.
Jia, Benny, Francis and Shelby
With water levels finally receding on Friday, the four got into a truck that dropped them off at the Aluva Metro Station.
The queue at the station was long, but people waited patiently for their turn.
Fahima and her husband Mohammed had come from Bengaluru to Thrissur as her father had suffered a heart attack. But the couple and their son got stuck in Thrissur and had no means to travel to Ernakulam for three days. On Saturday, they too climbed onto a truck that brought them to the Aluva station.
"We hadn't eaten anything. No hotel was open in any town. At the metro station, some young people from nearby had brought water and cooked food in packets," Fahima said.
There were also hundreds of students with their backpacks, and many others who had taken refuge at the UC College in Aluva, the biggest relief camp in the town. With waters receding, they could finally make the journey to Ernakulam in the metro, but there was no clarity on what lay beyond.
"I need to go to Alappuzha. The metro will take me to Kochi. From there I will figure out what to do," said Hari, an engineering student.
Inside the station, there were serpentine queues as people patiently waited for the next metro. With the metro yard completely flooded, Kochi Metro was running sporadic services. "I know the train is slow now as it's being manually driven, but I just want to get home," said Anju who with her friends had been staying at the UC College relief camp.
Even as every train was filled with weary and haggard people, there were others who were simply using the station as a place to sleep. They had no house to go back to, no family waiting in other districts.