7. Floods

In our village home on the banks of the Netravathi river, we were told by a priest in a religious trance, about how our house, which is in the highest spot in the village had been submerged by an ancient flood which carried away the cattle and the children. He said we had to pay for the sin of not protecting them. We did, by gifts of charity.
Floods that inundate the fields with rich silt for future harvests, were annual events on the banks of the Nile. This year, the worst floods in 200 years affected Manipur, India, resulting in landslides and widespread destruction. Bridges have been washed away and flooded areas are cut off due to destruction of telephone systems. It is estimated that 5,00,000 people have been affected. The floods here and in Maharashtra were caused by heavy rains (over 250mm rain in 36 hours). The Indian air force had to be called in to the rescue. Lack of clean water and flooding of sewage facilities can lead to epidemics like typhoid and cholera besides destroying power and other infrastructure.
One day I came down the stairs of our house in Chennai. I found myself looking down at what appeared to be a gently lapping lake in my drawing room. When I looked out, the cars were floating. Later I found, that in the night, officials at the local dam had opened the flood gates, without having time to inform anyone. A few hours later, the water receded. The computers had been under water. Boats were used on the streets. For hours, there was no electricity, no food, no milk and groceries. The water inside the house had to be bailed out with buckets. The stink of the mud and sediments was of death, mildew and fungus. We could never use the curtains, cushions or other furnishings again.
Imagine the fate of those who lived in mud huts near the dam. Babies, pots, provisions, jewellery and clothes – everything was washed away. Most were lucky to be alive.
Some floods allow time for evacuation, others are flash floods that develop in a few minutes. The eastern coasts of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa are often hit by cyclones and heavy rain, causing floods.
Remember than there can be a flood even in a desert. Heavy rains can cause floods creating a wall of water 10 to 30 feet high. Surprisingly, more people drown in the desert than die of thirst. A rain storm in Las Vegas in 1999, resulted in a flood causing loss of millions of dollars.
Whatever we have now experienced can be considered almost a joke, when we consider some of the world’s worst floods.
The worst was in China, killing over 3, 70,000 people in 1931. The flooding of the Yellow river has caused the death of over 5,00,000 people in 1887 and 1935. The destruction and flooding caused by Tsunamis and Typhoons is a story to be told on another day. The fact remains, that water in its place is a boon. Water out of its own space, is a bane that can destroy the world.
In fact Pralaya or the great flood is supposed to cause the end of the world. Whether it is Noah’s Ark, the Pralaya of Indian tradition or the great Deluge in the Koran and the Greek Myth of Zeus’s anger, flood is Nature’s weapon of mass destruction. Scientists believe that global warming and the melting of the Antarctic ice cap will trigger a great Deluge that will submerge the entire land mass and drown everything in its mighty tsunamis.
What can we do?
• Be aware of the possibility of floods during the monsoons especially if you live near a water body.
• Keep emergency rations which you can pick up and run. Have an emergency plan for evacuation.
• Keep in touch with local metrological reports
• Insure against flood damage.
• What a pity that all that water is not harvested and stored. Think of way to do this. Meanwhile if a faucet is leaking, get a wench and fix it. You can save 40 gallons of water a week.