BY RAJITHA JAGODA ARACHCHI & RASULA DILHARA GAMAGE
Continuous rains in the northern part of the country during the past few days inundated large areas of Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Mannar and Jaffna.
Overall, 123,178 people belonging to 39,669 families were displaced by the bad weather. Meanwhile, 474 houses had been fully damaged and another 4,522 houses partially damaged due to the floods.
However, the reported number of deaths is two, one each from Jaffna and Kilinochchi.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also visited the flood-hit areas, last week. Northern Province Governor Reginald Cooray, Ministers Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Daya Gamage, Harsha de Silva, Rishad Bathiudeen, J.C. Alawathuwala and Wijayakala Maheshwaran, MPs M.A. Sumanthiran, Mavai Senathiraja and Selvam Adaikkalanathan, District Secretary of Kilinochchi, Suntharan Arumainayagam, District Secretary of Mullativu, Rupawathi Keshishwaran, the IGP and senior military officers also accompanied the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister who chaired a meeting in Kilinochchi, pledged an immediate compensation of Rs. 10,000 to each family affected by the floods. The PM instructed officials to temporarily suspend collecting installments and interest on loans obtained by the affected.
The rains resulted in several tanks in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu breaching their bunds and inundating more than half of the Northern Province. In an area where there are no rivers, the disaster was entirely due to overflowing tanks.
The first to break was the Mankulama tank and a large amount of water gushed into smaller tanks causing much damage to the small tanks.
District Secretary of Kilinochchi, Suntharam Arumainayaham informed the Army about the areas which were subjected to instant flooding. Army officials were also provided details about the risky mission in front of them.
Kilinochchi Commanding Officer Maj. Gen. Ralph Nugera and Mullaitivu Commanding Officer Maj. Gen. Dushyantha Rajaguru took steps to ensure the people’s safety.
The Forces received information that most of the victims were in the area covered by the 57th Battalion of the Army, under the command of Maj. Gen. Vijitha Ravipriya, in Kilinochchi.
Even though the Battalion itself faced a flood threat, Maj. Gen. Ravipriya prioritised the safety of the civilians and deployed his troops on the mission. All junior soldiers were instructed to conduct this humanitarian mission in a patient and careful manner.
“We have to rescue all these people somehow. It is a tough job as the water is gushing at a speed more than we expected. Therefore, you have to take care of yourselves as well. The next thing to remember is, you have to act in a sensible and responsible manner and leave no room for complaints against you. While helping these people, we must maintain the discipline of the Forces. They may be Tamils, but they are a brotherly community. You should never forget that,” was the advice given to juniors by senior officers before the launch of the rescue mission.
Keeping all that in mind, the soldiers entered the flood waters, with the sole purpose of rescuing the flood victims. They swam towards the submerged villages with the help of ropes.
As they were heading towards the screaming people, severe rain and waves of water kept crashing into them. But showing their bravery and stability, the soldiers finally reached the marooned villagers.
“Don’t get into the water till we reach you,” soldiers yelled in Tamil.
The soldiers’ first mission was rescuing the elderly. Elders who couldn’t use the rope to cross the flooded area had to be carried on the shoulders of the soldiers.
Soon, the Navy too joined the rescue mission with a large number of boats. They transported the people rescued by the Army to safe places. At this time the Police, STF, Air Force, and Civil Defence Force were all involved in the rescue missions. Volunteers from the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu Disaster Management Centres and rescued youth also supported the ongoing missions. It was an emotional moment for many, seeing elders thanking and worshiping the young soldiers who rescued them. In fact, they were the true gods who saved the helpless people when they had nothing left other than praying to the gods.
In the meantime, the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu battalions had to take over another key responsibility, that is to protect other vulnerable tanks by placing sandbags.
Caretaker of the Jeyapuram Kovil, Kurukkal S. Subramaniam, now in a camp for the displaced in Kandawalei, Kilinochchi, said that if the Security Forces had waited till the next day to commence the rescue mission, none of these people would have survived.
“About forty-five minutes after the rain started, waves of water gushed into our house. We and our neighbours screamed and tried to stay in a higher position. We took some clothes and climbed on to the walls. But the water level kept rising,” said Subramaniam.
Forces continue to help
“The Army and Navy officers with some others came in the night itself and rescued us. Then we were dropped at this school. As the water kept rising fast we thought we would never survive. Only brave people would risk their lives in such dangerous water waves. If we tried to swim and save ourselves we would have surely died. All of us are eternally grateful to the soldiers for saving our lives”.
“They haven’t stopped helping us. They provide us food and water. We will never forget their good deeds. Even if some people do not care about the soldiers, the Gods will look after them,” said Subramniam.
Over 62,000 affected people are now under the care of the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu District Secretaries. Most of them live in temporary camps.
Kilinochchi District Secretariat, Suntharam Arumainayaham, highly appreciated the rescue missions conducted by the Forces in both districts. During the visit of Minister of Public Administration and Disaster Management, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, he commended the efforts of the Security Forces.
“These water streams are the district borders of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. After the sudden flood, both districts seem like one territory. In a matter of a few hours, all the houses in the area were submerged. The people were helpless. First, the Army approached and rescued people using ropes. Then the Navy, Air Force, Police, and the STF intervened. Navy boats went towards the houses in Kilinochchi and saved stranded people,” he said.
“Our officers in the Disaster Management Unit and officers in all the Forces teamed up and saved the lives of the affected people in the entire area. If the bund of another tank broke the situation would have been more critical. But military officers calmed my fears. They assured me that they will rescue everyone with no harm to anybody”.
“The situation is still not completely resolved. Everyone is now concerned about providing facilities for the rescued people. Even here, the military officers were the first to help. They prepared food for the people. They are still seeing to the welfare of the people. To be honest due to all the sacrifices of the Security Forces we could save everyone,” he said.
The most common opinion regarding the army or rather the Security Forces is that they are there to fight wars. It is the superficial meaning of that word. However, the armed forces are involved in the betterment of civilians as well. The rescue missions conducted by them during the recent floods in the North was a clear example of that indeed.
Though we call them defence units, they do not only protect the land. People and animals are also under their shield.