Thiruvananthapuram: The 58 rescue teams and 1,443 troops of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has completed 15 days in Kerala, assisting with relief and rescue, and is now being ‘de-inducted’. K.K. Singh, NDRF deputy inspector general (south zone), and the man who led the rescue efforts, tells Mint how the force went about the relief operations:
What is the extent of rescue and relief operations that NDRF carried out in Kerala?
We have been deployed in Kerala since 9 August. We have rescued and provided relief to 25,029 people and provided medical relief to more than 4,800 affected people. Five districts here received rainfall, which was 75% above normal. Active rescue work, which was phase 1 of relief and rescue, is now over. Now, we have entered the final phase. We have started de-inducting our troops and have put them on standby along the western and eastern coasts.
Was this the worst emergency crisis that the force has dealt with?
This was one of the worst floods that we have witnessed in the last 10 years, in terms of state infrastructure and the number of people being affected. Water levels had gone up to beyond the first floor of houses in some areas and, the fact that most people living there were the elderly, it was a matter of concern.
Was there a differentiating factor in flood relief in Kerala?
There is difference when we do flood relief and rescue work in Bihar or Chennai or Kerala. In Bihar, for example, the people are financially worse off and infrastructure is also poorer as compared to Kerala, where most people are financially well off and the infrastructure, even in villages, is very good. So the collective loss in Kerala’s case is much higher than compared to other areas. These floods destroyed very good infrastructure and rebuilding will definitely take time. Secondly, language proved to be a barrier, because the troops did not know the local language. So, that slowed down rescue operations sometimes, especially in the absolute interiors.
Is it true that some people refused to leave their homes, despite the rising water levels?
Yes, that is true. People did not want to leave their homes and belongings behind. So, while we were doing rescue work in the area, we would keep going back to the houses where people had not left, every 24 hours, and provide basic food and water so that they were at least taken care of. Beyond that, if we felt that the water was crossing the danger mark, we would have to keep advising them on the risks in order to evacuate them.
What about animals?
A lot of the livestock in the state was at the risk of being lost. So our troops risked their lives to provide help to the livestock and get them to safer grounds. We also provided fodder and shelter for them.
How have the troops been coping with post-rescue work?
Besides, engaging in rescue and relief work, the NDRF has also been providing medical help. We have medical teams of doctors and paramedics. All the personnel are given basic training as medical first responders to provide basic care. We have also been distributing basic antibiotics and care packages in the relief camps. The troops are first trained in precautionary measures and to identify basic infections like fungal or other skin diseases, and then they pass on that knowledge to civilians who have been affected and, in turn, teach them the basic care measures.
What is the response time between deployment and rescue?
Whenever we get a crisis call, we are always ready at our battalion base camps or the headquarters. When we receive a call, our response time is usually 10 minutes, within which we are ready to be deployed along with our equipment. The movement time from our base to the affected area depends on the availability of transport. In case of Kerala, we tied up with the Indian Air Force and they airlifted the troops to the affected areas in the state from their base camps.
The NDRF requires some heavy equipment to facilitate rescue. Does it pose a challenge in such severe cases?
One of the main equipment we need is boats. We always have boats on the ready and because they are inflatable, they are easy to load onto the trains or aircraft. In Kerala, for example, we had three boats for every team. We had a total of 58 teams deployed through the state and each team had 30 boys. These numbers change according to the severity of the situation.
What about the safety of the troops?
Of course, troops can also get injured during such operations. But it is the call of duty. A case of snake bite was reported during one of the rescue operations in Kerala, but they are taught to take adequate precautionary measures and how to deal with these situations.