‘What about our losses?’: Uncertainty prevails at Vijayawada flood relief camp

The heavy outflow from the Prakasam Barrage on the Krishna River resulted in flooding of several low-lying areas in Vijayawada.
‘What about our losses?’: Uncertainty prevails at Vijayawada flood relief camp
‘What about our losses?’: Uncertainty prevails at Vijayawada flood relief camp
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Two groups of young children and older boys play their own forms of cricket at the centre of the Indira Gandhi Stadium in Vijayawada, in the scorching heat on Monday afternoon. But the kids are not training at the stadium to play professional cricket. They are among the 1400-odd people who have been staying at the flood relief camp which has been set up at the stadium for the past four days. 

On August 16,  Durga, along with her two children and most of her neighbours in Tarakarama Nagar, quickly packed a few belongings and got on a truck which brought her to the stadium. Durga says that although residents were warned about the possibility of floods, nobody expected it to be this severe. “The officials issued a warning on August 14 and 15. They came and announced the flood alert on mics. But the (Prakasam) barrage gates are opened every year. Some years, the water doesn’t even enter our homes. Other times, it’s just ankle deep. So we didn’t expect it to be this bad this year,” says Durga. 

Many of the people staying at the camp say that their houses were completely submerged, with the flood water touching the rooftops. They recall that the last time the flood levels were this high was nearly ten years ago, when they were brought to the same stadium for shelter. The floods have mainly affected low-lying areas in and around the Krishnalanka area in the city, including Rani Gari Thota, Tarakarama Nagar, and Ramalingeswara Nagar. 

Evacuations were carried out after an alert was sounded, as 8 lakh cusecs of water was released from the Prakasam Barrage that lies across the Krishna river in Vijayawada . The water, which was released early on Thursday, submerged several low-lying areas in the Krishna district. 

The Krishna River, which originates in Maharashtra and traverses through Karnataka and Andhra before draining in the Bay of Bengal, has been in spate for the past few weeks. Heavy rainfalls in Maharashtra and Karnataka forced dam authorities to open the gates, resulting in flooding downstream of the river. 

On August 12, all 26 crest gates of Nagarjuna Sagar Project in Andhra were lifted, reportedly for the first time in a decade. On the other hand, outflows from Nagarjuna Sagar dam had been filling up the Pulichintala project, which was further downstream. On August 13, all 70 gates of the Prakasam Barrage were opened, due to inflows from the Pulichintala reservoir located upstream.
Adham, a painter from Tarakarama Nagar, also feels that the flood alert wasn’t clear enough. “Usually, we are informed in advance about the quantity of water to be released. Each of us can tell you based on the number of cusecs of water released, how high the water will reach in our homes. This time, that information was not clear,” he says. 
He says that water had begun to enter their homes on August 14 itself, but it only reached the steps and receded after a while, which made them believe that the alert was a false alarm. “Even if the water recedes now, we are afraid of going back without confirmation from officials. What if they release the water again?” he says. 

Families are scattered across the different blocks of the cricket stands, some of them forming their own small sectors with objects they have managed to salvage from their homes, like cots, pedestal fans, and clothes hung out to dry. But not everyone has been fortunate enough to recover their possessions. Durga, who does daily wage construction labour, says she was at work when she found out they needed to be evacuated. 

“I rushed back in a hurry and packed what I could. My children were at home but they didn’t know what was important. My entire family’s Aadhaar cards and our Ration card were left behind. Water has reached our rooftop. Even the TV, ceiling fan and other things will be damaged,” she says. 

Although the camp has been providing food and healthcare to the people at the stadium, there is restlessness to know when they can go back home and try to bring back normalcy to their lives. Aruna from Rani Gari Thota says that usually, water is released from the barrage till the Deepavali festival, which usually falls between mid-October to early November. She is worried that the uncertainty will loom over her family till then. “No one has mentioned any compensation for our losses either. We want to go back so we can assess the damage, clean up the house and go back to work,” she says. 

Children play around in the stands and the ground, some of them dressed in their school uniforms as those were among the only clothes they could bring along when they left their homes in a rush. Aruna says her children’s school books were also damaged in the floods, and it is not clear so far whether the government will compensate for the loss. 

Staying at the relief camp also means that many of them are unable to go to work. The stadium happens to be mostly filled with women, children and elderly people. Adham says that the 1,420 people at the camp are less than half of the affected persons, as many of them have been staying on the higher ground close to their homes, guarding their possessions against thefts. 

J Srinivas, a high school teacher who has been appointed in-charge of the relief centre, has been running the camp with the help of volunteers and medical officers. Volunteers have been recruited from the village and ward volunteer system launched by the state government on August 15. Srinivas says the Vijayawada Municipal Corporation has hired contractors to supply three meals a day, along with milk for children, elderly people and pregnant women. "Water inflow has stopped from Srisailam and Nagarjuna Sagar dams. Mostly it will stop from the Pulichintala project as well in a couple of days. Until then, everyone at the camp will be taken care of,” he says. 

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