In Kerala Floods, Rescuers Use Helicopters and Even Their Own BacksNEW DELHI — The family clung to the rooftop. All around them, floodwaters swirled. One of the family members was in a wheelchair..
Just as things appeared at their most perilous, an Indian military helicopter swooped in, plucking the woman off the rooftop and delicately hoisting her to safety.
“Hail India!” several people wrote on Twitter after video of the rescue went viral on Monday.
“Thank God!” said another.
In the past week, Kerala, a bushy, tropical, low-lying state in southern India, has been walloped by monster floods. The heaviest rainfall in nearly a century has swamped the state, knocking the international airport out of commission, fizzling electricity, inundating hospitals and chasing more than a million people from their homes. Several hundred have died and nearly 220,000 have been displaced.
Many Indians have criticized their central government as doing too little to help, saying that the amount of attention — and money — Prime Minister Narendra Modi has given to this disaster is woefully low.
But there have been stories of valor.
Indian commandos have slid from hovering helicopters on whisper-thin ropes to save the tiniest babies. In one rescue, a young soldier cradled an infant to his chest while being slowly winched up from the floodwaters. The pair dangle precariously in the air, swinging back and forth, as the pilot somehow keeps the chopper hovering perfectly still, flattening the leaves of palm trees below.
Then there are the fishermen. Kerala is a coastal state with a huge fishing industry, and when the floods hit, the fishermen responded. It was like an Indian Dunkirk, reminiscent of when British citizens in small boats ventured to the French coast during World War II to evacuate trapped soldiers.
Setting off in battered, brightly painted boats powered by little outboard motors, the fishermen puttered up and down the state’s submerged streets, rescuing thousands. The traditional boats were sturdier than many of the rubber-hulled government rescue craft, which can get sliced open by sharp pieces of garbage.
One young fisherman took it a step further, so to speak. He got down on his hands and knees in the filthy floodwaters and insisted that people use his back as a step into an awaiting rescue boat. His lips hung an inch above the water as survivor after survivor planted a foot on his back and scampered to safety.
Kerala’s streets now look like rivers.
The pavement is sunk beneath several feet of water the color of tea mixed with milk. This stretch of India is renown for its palm-tree-shaded backwaters — seemingly endless networks of canals sluicing through the state’s rice paddies and ultimately emptying into the Indian Ocean. One of the most beautiful and acclaimed books on India, Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things,” was set here.
The sun has finally come out in Kerala, and the weather this week is forecast to be much better. Still, a light rain fell on Tuesday, leaving dimples on the milky water that seemed to cover everything.