Three small-scale traders explain how they incurred huge losses as the officials failed to give prior warning of dams being opened.

Will take a lifetime to recover from losses Ranni businessmen after Kerala Floods
news Kerala Floods Wednesday, August 22, 2018 - 16:07

The little town of Ranni in Pathanamthitta district slowly began breathing again on Monday. Reverberations from store shutters being pulled up, squeaks from gates opening and chatterings of people on roads have filled the air in different corners of the town. But, life is far from being normal for these people, as the road to recovery from the recent devastation caused by the floods seem way too long.

TNM did a recce of the town, which revealed another grim picture - residents and traders are working tirelessly to clean houses and shops, to take stock of the damage and to file insurance claims.

Overflowing rivers brought with it an immeasurable amount of slush and mud from the roads, which have now accumulated in all shops and homes.

Many small industries in Ranni, too, took a beating. TNM spoke to three businessmen, who say how they incurred huge losses as the officials failed to give a warning prior to the dams being opened. 

Punnose

Abraham Punnose opened the shutters of his oil and flour mill early on Monday morning. But unlike the usual days, there weren’t any people waiting at the door with a sack of rice. Instead, his two employees are working overtime to clean out the slush and puddle that the floods left behind all over his mill.

"It has been more than two days and we are still not able to clear the slush from the mill," Punnose said.

“I am doubtful if my mill will be able to function for the next two months. Look at all the motors,” Punnose points to the motor that is used to crush the rice. “I don't know if they will ever work again.”

According to many people in the town, the floods, which hit Ranni during the night of August 14, was primarily due to lack of warning when the dams were opened.  

"We were not given any prior warning that the shutters of Kaki dam and Kochu pampa dam were going to be opened on August 14, that too, in the night," says Punnose, who rushed to the mill when he heard the news of the dams opening.

"As it is Onam season, we had received a lot of masala powder and chilli powder from people. By the time we reached the mill, water had entered and all the powder sacks had already been wet," recalls Punnose.

"All we could do was to make sure that our machines did not get wet. We have about nine machines, which are heavy. There were four of us, and by the time we tried shifting the machines to the second floor, water had reached until our waist, so we had to leave it and get out of the mill," adds Punnose.

In order to repair the motor, Punnose says he has to bring a mechanic from Kottayam, all the way from Kottayam. He has to remove the parts, clean it and once dried, the motor has to be varnished.

"Even a small amount of water that is clogged in some parts of the motor, it might catch fire when we turn it on," he said.

Even if he takes all the precautionary measures, Punnose is not sure if the machines will work again. "An estimated loss of Rs 10 lakhs has been incurred so far and for people like us, it will take more than two to three years to recover from this loss," he said.

Salim

Salim, a textile shop owner, stands outside his shop in the Ittiyappara area of Ranni, clueless on what to do next, as members of his family and some of his employees are trying to clean the shop.

"We never thought water would enter like the way it did," Salim tells TNM.

"As it was Onam season, we had a huge heap of clothes stocked in the first two floors of the shop. When we heard about the floods, we had shifted everything from the first floor to the second floor, hoping that water will not reach there, as it has never happened before," says Salim.

But all his efforts were in vain.

“All the stocks were submerged after the water level reached the second floor," said a visibly distressed Salim.

Apart from the mammoth task of cleaning the shop, receiving due compensation is another challenge staring Salim in the face.

"I feel helpless at the moment. Even though I have insurance, I am not sure about the compensation amount I will receive for this damage," says Salim.

"We had sourced all these special stocks from different parts of the country, including Surat, Kolkata, Delhi and Erode, and that too, on credit. Now we are answerable to all these people, " added Salim.

He also said that he estimates his loss to be at least Rs 1 crore. “It will probably take a lifetime to recover from this, as, like others, we have to start from scratch,” he says.

Philip

Philip is busy shuttling from one phone call to another, talking to investors and insurance agencies. He owns Panavelil Hardware, in Itiyappara area.

The two basements of his showroom, where he had stored all his stocks, was completely submerged in water.

“I have incurred a loss of more than Rs 1 crore in this flood,” he says.

Philip is irked that the district administration did not give prior warning of the opening of the dams.

“Before they opened the dams, there should have been proper planning and the prior warning should have been announced to the people living in the area,” he told TNM, adding, “They are saying they had announced about the shutter openings around 11 pm. How are people supposed to take measures if it is announced so late in the night?"

When TNM visited the basement of his showroom in Pathanamthitta, which deals mainly in electrical appliances, plumbing and sanitary wares, most of the stocks were either covered with slush or completely drenched.

Officials speak

TNM was also able to get in touch with Lal, who was in charge of making the announcement of the shutters of the dam being opened.

“Ranni police gave me the information about the shutter opening, after 10 pm on August 14. I had to fill fuel in the generator to make the announcement through the mic. Soon after this, I went around the town in my Jeep, making the announcement," Lal tells TNM.

Radhakrishnan, the tahsildar of the Ranni taluk, says that both the small and big businessmen of the town have been hit beyond measure.

"But there are a lot of businesses in Ranni that depend on daily earnings for a livelihood. We are requesting the banks to give them loans so that they have enough money to restart their business," says Radhakrishnan.

The General Secretary of the Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi of the Pathanamthitta district, Jose K Abraham tells TNM that they are trying to discuss the issue with the district collector, MLA and various banks to come up with measures to ease things for the businessmen in Ranni.

"Right now, Ranni has to be built all over again,” says Jose. “Most of the shops have lost everything that they have earned in their entire lives.”

The damage caused by the floods is evident in every nook and corner of the town, as all damaged items line outside rows of shops.

This article has been produced in partnership with Oxfam India. In the last 10 years, Oxfam India has delivered over 36 impactful humanitarian responses in India. Oxfam India is providing critical relief to the affected families and communities in Kerala: clean drinking water, sanitation, and shelter kits. Click here to help #RebuildKerala.

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