As one enters the UC College in Aluva, the first thing that can be seen is a small medical camp buzzing with activity. No one has time to pause, people at the camp, doctors, nurses and volunteers go on with a strange zeal. The camp, which is the biggest in Ernakulam district, had around 2,000 people on Monday morning. But two days before, the numbers were very different: the camp had almost 8,000 people, with not an inch of space to even move around.
On August 15, people from nearby panchayats were told that the college would serve as a relief camp for people from Aluva East village. But by night, as the deluge worsened, hundreds poured in from nearby panchayats of Elukkara, Panayikulam, Malikampeedika, Desom, Athani, Kaprassery, Manappuram and beyond.
Finding order in chaos
When 26-year-old Shahabas KH, the youngest block Panchayat member in Ernakulam district, heard that people were being brought to the college in hundreds, he rushed there immediately.
"There were two teachers, a few NCC and NSS cadets. It was unimaginable chaos. People were coming from everywhere, in trucks, tippers and buses. There was no food, no power and no water," he recalls. But what was of bigger concern was that many of the people who were arriving at the camp were either injured or sick.
To Shahabas' great relief, a doctor couple who lived nearby had also rushed in to help. Dr Najeeb, an ESI dispensary medic, and Dr Naseema, a Taluk office superintendent, had made their daughter and granddaughter who had arrived from abroad just a day before, stay back at a neighbour's house. It was only when they reached the hospital that they realised what a big challenge lay ahead.
"We had taken all the sample medicines at home and come. Another doctor, Dr Thomas too reached at the same time. We started calling chemists and hospitals nearby, who brought whatever medicines they could. As lorries and trucks came in with people, we would seperate those who were injured or were sick. We had set up a temporary dressing table and injuries would be tended to," Dr Najeeb explains.
With just a few medicines at their disposal, patients were given an antibiotic dose and pain killer if necessary. "We had a few patients on the verge of seizure, but we dealt with it. It was only on Saturday that other doctors and medical staff came streaming in," he says.
Dr Najeeb is proud that no deaths had happened in the camp. But Shahabas says it was not an easy task to ensure that.
Nameless volunteers who saved lives
"On Thursday, there was a pregnant woman who was bleeding. The doctor couple told me that she had to be taken to the hospital. Another heart patient was also unwell then. I looked for vehicles frantically, but could not get any. We kept SMSing for air ambulance from phones that had little network, but nobody came," he says.
It was then that a couple of youngsters arrived at the camp in a truck. "We don't know how they managed to reach here. Till then, all that we had was one large supply of food that Anbodu Kochi volunteers had given us. We loaded the two patients onto the truck after the food and relief materials were unloaded. Those youngsters, I still don't know who they are, took the two patients to hospital," Shahabas says.
Managing food shortage
Anbodu Kochi, a private organisation that helps in relief operations, had brought materials in eight boats to a point nearest to the camp. The first night, the volunteers in the camp decided to give one packet of food for four people. They saved a few packets and gave them away for breakfast, although the food was not fresh.
There was no power, no mobile or landline connectivity and no water. A volunteer recalled that the place was stinking for two days. "We had no water in the bathroom. It was stinking, but we could not help it. Then the District Collector sent diesel. We started the motor and pumped a bit of water. People would not even have water to wash their hands after a meal. We only had candles for two nights and even those ran out. But somehow we managed," he says.
When relief finally came in
By Friday, the next deluge started – the deluge of relief material. With more boats starting to ply, and the water levels receding, trucks full of relief material were brought to the centre.
"There was a lot of stuff. But you need to understand that these people have lost everything. They would all take new and old clothes eagerly. Sometimes, small fights would break out. But we managed to keep tempers down," Shahabas says.
People were segregated by volunteers. New mothers and kids at the college's day care centre, old people at the NR block, migrant labourers in another block and so on. Aluva MLA Anwar Sadath and his family, too, were at the camp. He would leave in the morning with the rescue teams and come back in the night.
On Monday, the camp was buzzing with activity, but the crowds had thinned.
Diana and her family have been living in the camp since Wednesday. But they were unsure if they could go back home yet.
"The paths are not cleared, there is waste strewn all over. I don't know the damages to my house, we have lost all our possessions. Even cleaning the house will be such a nightmare," she says.
She could not pause to speak more as the long queue for food was moving briskly ahead.
All pictures by Dhanya Rajendran, TNM.