The disaster management team of Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society (ULCCS), Kerala’s biggest labour cooperative, has a reputation for courage and efficiency that could make an army unit proud. Early this month, in a daring mission, they had restored Eengapuzha river in Kozhikode back to its original position in a day. Heavy rain and landslide on August 10 had thrown massive boulders and trees on the river causing it to change course and run wild.
But for these workers, who were in the least daunted by boulders, trees and rapid currents, cleaning up the houses ravaged by floods was a far bigger challenge. The Chalakudy river, like Eengapuzha, had strayed from its path and burst into houses along its banks disgorging all its contents on the floors of houses. “There were houses where the slush had piled up to a height of 70cm,” said Kishore, a mountaineer who coordinated the ULCCS’s post-flood restoration efforts. But in four days a team of nearly 300 ULCCS specialists had cleaned up 1,000 houses, and made them fit for use, in Kadukutty panchayat on the banks of the Chalakudy river in Thrissur.
The Kozhikode-based ULCCS had earlier informed the chief minister’s office that it was willing to restore 1,000 flood-ravaged houses free of cost. “We asked them to focus on Kadukutty because this was the worst-affected panchayat in Thrissur. It was also the first panchayat to be isolated in the district. All the roads leading to the area were washed away by the overflowing waters of Chalakudy river,” Chalakudy MLA B D Devassy said.
In some of the houses, the slush had piled up to a height of 70cm. It was an army of 220 specialists that first descended on Kadukutty. In the next four days the number swelled to 300. The ULCCS team was divided into 10, each having an electrician, plumber, engineer, carpenter, masons and slush removers. “We brought in all that was required for the construction of a new house,” Kishore said.
Each team had a snake catcher, too. “We knew that the houses would be filled with all kinds of snakes, and they were,” Kishore said.
[Image: How 300 volunteers brought flood-hit Kadukutty village back to normal ]
Kadukutty was the worst-affected panchayat in Thrissur.
The panchayat had nearly 5,000 houses spread over 16 wards, four on the west side of Chalakudy river and 12 on the east. “Not all houses were affected. So we first did a survey before we moved in,” Kishore said. The recce was done early morning before the start of the operation. A team member will go around a ward in the company of the ward member, and list down the houses that needed attention. “He will also give us a fair idea about the condition of the houses,” Kishore said.
They don’t directly enter a house and start cleaning. They do some preliminary observation. “First our engineer would do a structural check to assess the stability of the construction. Then we will carefully open the doors to check whether there has been some gas formation (either from the leak of ammonia in a fridge or from the LPG cylinder). Once this is clear, they push open the door and look for reptile marks. “Most of the houses were filled with snakes, even their flush tanks are full of them,” Kishore said. Based on the information gathered from the preliminary observation, the team leader will list out the problems that need to be fixed.
The cleaning begins after the snakes are removed. “The removal of slush was perhaps the most difficult thing. What lies thick on the floor is not just river deposits, it is a mixture of everything from septic tank waste to carcasses of animals, snakes and fish. By the time we arrived, the slush had started to solidify. And the stink as we start scraping the surface and scooping from below was unbearable,” Kishore said.
Along with the cleaning, the plumbing and wiring was also taken care of. It is only in certain houses that the rectified plumbing could be checked. “We cannot pump water from the wells because their waters had got mixed with water from septic tanks. The wells will have to be cleaned first before water is pumped through the pipes,” Kishore said.
Removing the slush was one of the major challenges faced by the ULCCS team.Though the wiring in the homes has also been properly insulated, power supply has not been restored as the walls through which the wiring passes are still damp. Most of the electronic equipment like TV sets, fridges and washing machines are beyond repair.
On the first day, the 10 teams together cleaned 110 houses. Next day more personnel were called in and the number of houses attended to more than doubled. By the end of the fourth day, 1000 houses were rendered fit for use.