A year after floods and landslides claimed the lives of 21 people in Karnataka's Kodagu district, authorities in the hilly region have taken extra precautions ahead of this year's monsoon season. From buying machinery to training officials and setting up helplines, the district administration is making sure they are well-resourced and equipped to tackle a flood-like situation.
The district officials admitted that they were caught unprepared during the floods and landslides that struck the region in August 2018, prompting multi-agency rescue operations. "We struggled last year, particularly in rescuing people in Somwarpet taluk, where the force of the river was strong and we could not transport personnel or materials across the river," says PRS Chetan, Officer Commanding, Civil Defence Quick Response Team (QRT).
This year, the rescue teams have surveyed the vulnerable areas of the district and have also conducted mock drills simulating disaster scenarios.
"A 30-member team conducted a mock drill in Hattihole region. We are on standby whenever the district administration wants us on the ground. We have bought new equipment, such as unmanned boats, inflatable floating bridges and dewatering pumps to attend to any flood-like emergency situation. Woodcutting machines and life jackets, too have been stocked. The unmanned boats will help us transport ropes and life jackets across flooded areas," explains Chetan.
The district administration has identified the vulnerable areas in the district where landslides could strike again. Places, where relief camps will be set up, have also been identified. Training programmes for all officials, volunteers, media personnel and elected representatives are also being conducted.
"We are also trying to integrate the public in rescue efforts since the first response will be from the public on-ground. Lack of coordination between officials and residents caused some confusion last year," says Annies Joy Kanmani, Deputy Commissioner of Kodagu.
The move to integrate local residents in rescue efforts was welcomed by residents who were involved in volunteer-driven rescue efforts last year. "We know the forests here like the back of our hands and will only contribute towards the rescue efforts of the teams from outside Kodagu. Last year, we coordinated the rescue efforts by pooling resources and people together, but it would be better if there is integration with officials," Deepak Muthanna, a volunteer and resident of Madapura in Kodagu, told TNM. He was involved in the rescue efforts in Madapura and its surrounding areas during the landslides and floods last year.
NDRF personnel in Kodagu, August 2018
However, Deepak warned that fighting a disaster on-ground will be different from conducting mock drills in still water. "Last year, one of the main issues was that the water mixed with mud was flowing with a dangerous force. Some of the items procured for this year's floods may not be effective when there is such a gush of water flowing," he added.
Residents in the district can now contact the administration via WhatsApp or call the helpline number. The toll-free rescue and relief helpline number is 1077. A separate 24x7 Helpline Centre is currently active in the Deputy Commissioner's office. Residents in the district can contact the district administration on the number - 8550001077 - via WhatsApp.
A May 2019 report by the Geological Survey of India had identified 35 'vulnerable' areas in the district, including 13 that are highly 'vulnerable'. While district officials plan to visit all 35 locations, excavators have also been deployed in areas susceptible to landslides to make it easier to clear tracts of mud that tend to pile up on roads.
On June 20, residents living in vulnerable areas were asked to shift to rented accommodations or relief centres as a precautionary measure. The district administration will pay rent for up to three months for those displaced by the floods and landslides..