CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 October 2018

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Floods of biblical proportions inundate Kerala

The monsoon rains… they write prose and poetry through the vast agricultural land of Kerala.  For over 15 per cent of the over 34 million population living outside their homeland, the monsoon evokes the most nostalgic ruminations. 
 
A little more than Taiwan in geographical area, the land is garlanded with 44 rivers and the uplands beaded with 42 dams. This wealth of resources were the very ones that threatened to wipe the whole province away from the map of India in mid-August.
 
The lovely monsoon, however, turned hostile this year pouring down torrential rains in biblical proportions. It rained almost incessantly for six days, pushing 33 of the dams to severe stress levels. When they could not contain the waters, the flood gates opened swelling the lean and dry rivers into crazy yellow dragons inundating the banks for kilometres along the way. 
 
By the time the furious waters relented in the Arabian Sea, they had taken nearly 400 lives, damaged around 70,000 homes and forced over a million people into relief camps.
 
Kerala, a sought after international destination nicknamed, Gods own country, on the tourism map was also an ancient trade destination for exotic spices. China was one of the earliest to trade with this part of India. They still use Chinese nets and Chinese pots. Added to this uniqueness is its distinction of having the first elected Communist government in the world while being also the cradle of the Catholic Church in India. 
 
The most literate and educated of the provinces of India, Kerala feeds the service sectors of the country and the world with nurses, doctors, IT professionals and entrepreneurs. None of these credentials prepared them to face such a bone shocker wave of floods that overwhelmed them. 
 
Though warnings were given through television channels and social media about the impending floods, people never imagined that they would reach such heights. Eighty-seven landslides scarred the roadways, bringing cross-country transportation to standstill. Moreover, the floodwaters covered most of the bridges across the rivers and some of them crumbled under the force. Houses were flooded and marooned. 
 
While the provincial administration was doing its best to rescue marooned people, resources were not enough. By the time social networks got active in finding those who were stranded, time was critical in the rescue operations. 
 
Modern software was used to identify their last call positions in order to reach them. A television channel cancelled all programmes and had live coverage of the rescue and relief operations 24x7, relaying calls for rescue—an unprecedented approach to rescue operations.
 
But even after four days, the rains had shown no signs of abating, and now hunger and shortage of regular medicines threatened to turn this into a massive tragedy. 
 
By this time new heroes were emerging. In dire situations even ordinary people become great heroes. The very ordinary lives of some people are very heroic without audience. 
 
Such were the fishermen of the costal areas of Poonthura, who were only beginning to recover from Typhoon Ockhi which hit them a year ago. When rescue boats could not enter small alleyways filled with water, the fishermen brought in their smaller boats by truck and sprang into action on the scene en masse. 
 
When the victims were crying for fear of their lives, a fisherman was said to have promised them, “none of you will perish as long as one of us is alive.” They managed to save even the last soul marooned in neck deep water in a remote house. 
 
I now understand, why the Lord was keen on selecting the fishermen to guard the Church.
 
Catholic Church got involved in the rescue and relief operations without making any claim for the goodness. There are stories of pure humanism where a diocese had a funeral for someone of another religion in a Catholic cemetery. There was a boy who fell dead in his house from sheer exhaustion after serving four days and nights in the relief camps. 
 
In hindsight, the power of social media emerged as tool for rescue operations and warnings. The social media initiated decentralised rescue operations. They continue to connect good-willed people even for raising charity for the relief operations. 
 
Ripples of the devastating floods had reached the shores of Hong Kong and Macau too, as hundreds of people, including many religious sisters and priests from Kerala work in these Special Administrative Regions. 
 
The WhatsApp and Facebook groups of Church communities kept them updated on the situations of their affected dear and near ones. 
 
A charity organisation associated with the Claretian Missionaries organised a fundraising campaign for the assistance of the affected and the Hong Kong and Macau communities were quick to respond with nearly half a million dollars. The need is huge and help is pouring in. 
 
Unlike what is generally believed, Kerala does not have a Christian majority. They do not even account for one third of the population. However, they have been there as early as Christianity itself. The Church there is said to have been begun by St. Thomas the apostle. 
 
True to being salt to the earth, the Church played a significant role in the rescue and relief activity. Many people have returned to their homes with sinking hearts having lost the earnings of a lifetime with others having lost the crops for the sustenance of the whole year. 
 
It will take years to recover from this shock. But they will build up again, for no floods can sweep away their willpower and dreams!
 
 
 
Father Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF

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