Dhanaraj Kotarkar, a 34-year-old fisherman from Uttara Kannada district's Kinnur, woke up to the rumbling noise of thunder and his wife Vimala's urges that their house was flooding with water. Quick to take action, Dhanaraj and Vimala packed up their belongings and all the appliances they had and began moving it out on the road uphill.
The incessant rains that lashed North Karnataka since Sunday evening, resulted in hundreds of villages being flooded and thousands being evacuated from their homes. While rescue personnel were deployed in several flooded areas, residents of Kinnur and surrounding villages were not so lucky. It was local fishermen like Dhanaraj who helped evacuate over 1,500 families in Kinnur and surrounding villages.
Within minutes of ensuring that his wife and their belongings were safely at the primary school in Kinnur, Dhanaraj and his fellow fishermen Santosh Anand Kotarkar (41), Girija Hittal and Jai Sharth rushed to the rescue of the residents of Kinnur.
"We got the people out of their homes first. All houses, including the post office and telephone exchange were flooded. There was water up to 5 feet. Our first priority was to get the people out," Dhanaraj said.
Soon, around 150 fisher folk of Kinnur rowed their boats and were on their way to rescue the residents of the surrounding villages.
"We did not rest the whole day from 2 am to 5 pm we rowed our boats to the nearby villages and began rescuing people," Girija Hittal says.
By Wednesday afternoon, the fisher folk of Kinnur had travelled to the surrounding villages of Ambejog, Malepoth, Asalwada, Kasarkhand, Boribagh, Halekhand, Chamkoli, Bagwada, Bhadikatta, Jhadki, Ghadsai, Usarkatta and Arao, and had rescued over 3,500 people. Once those stranded were brought to the main roads, they were sent to the relief camps in Kinnur and Karwar via the NWSRTC buses arranged by the district administration.
“By Wednesday afternoon, two relief camps in Kinnur, which is the one in the Gram Sabha office and the ITI College, had also flooded. We had to row back into the flooded area and rescue those people who were in the relief camps once again. By Wednesday, entire villages were submerged. It all looked like the sea,” Girija adds.
When the fisher folk reached the flooded relief camps, people were seen swimming in the water in an attempt to reach safety, some were perched on the rooftop of the Gram Sabha and ITI College buildings, hoping that help would arrive. By Wednesday evening, they were all shifted to the relief camps in Karwar.
It was only on Thursday evening that the fisher folk of Kinnur began making trips into people’s homes to bring back their belongings. “After rescuing all the people, we are now transporting their TV, refrigerators, suitcases and other belongings one by one. Ours is not a big boat so we have to make two to three trips to get out the belongings of one household,” Santosh Kotarkar says.
On Thursday evening, the coast guard arrived in Kinnur with one boat and are helping the fishermen with the rescue. “The coast guard personnel all got busy rescuing the people who were stranded in the islands that are around Karwar. SDRF personnel did not come here at all. We start the rescue operation at 5 am and we keep going till 11.30 pm. Our boats are small and we have to help everyone. We barely get time to eat or sleep,” Santosh adds.
With thousands of families waiting for their belongings to reach the relief camps safely, Dhanaraj and his fellow fisher folk have a daunting task ahead of them. “The rains have not stopped. It keeps pouring all the time. We have a 10 to 15-minute respite from rain once in a couple of hours and again it will start raining. We are trying our best. The District administration has promised us that the Fire and Emergency Service personnel and SDRF will come to help us tomorrow (Friday). With their help, we will be able to finish collecting every one’s belongings in no time,” Dhanaraj says.