Barabanki (Uttar Pradesh), Sep 27 (IANS) What is the smell of flood? Rotting cattle carcasses. Why do people wading through floodwaters carry heavy sticks? To keep at bay the snakes swimming alongside.
Over 400,000 people have been affected by the floods that have ravaged 200 villages in this eastern Uttar Pradesh district since Sep 22. The floods were caused by heavy rain and release of water from endangered embankments in various rivers in Nepal upstream. Three people have been killed, according to official records.
The trail of destruction starts a mere 30 km from state capital Lucknow, on the outskirts of district headquarters town Barabanki.
The stench of rotting carcasses hangs permanently in the air. As the mud walls of huts keep collapsing, the tin sheets that once formed the roofs float in the floodwaters.
Hundreds of villagers can be seen wading through waist-deep water in search of higher ground. On their shoulders, they carry their children and whatever belongings they could salvage and carry.
But everyone does carry a heavy wooden stick, the only defence against the snakes that can also be seen everywhere, flooded out of their holes.
There are places where the water rises chest deep. In one such spot, villagers had to protect this reporter by chasing the snakes away.
'Snakes and scorpions in the water have become routine. The stick comes quite handy in warding them off,' said Sukai, once a resident of Ganeshpur village in the dictrict, now made homeless by the flood.
There is little relief even when people reach higher ground. It's packed with people and everyone jostles for camping space.
The state government has called out the Army and the Provincial Armed Constabulary to carry out relief operations in the district. But flood victims say the rescue measures are 'woefully inadequate'.
'Officially, the government has deployed over 200 rubber boats to evacuate villagers. But you will see only two-three boats on duty at a time,' said Kamlesh Kumar, a resident of another inundated village, Bakharepur.
He had not yet tried to wade through the floodwaters in search of higher ground. He stood in waist-deep water with most other villagers, in a seemingly endless wait for boats to rescue them.
Deewakar Singh of Utrawa village did start out, wading with his family, but it did not turn out well at all.
'We all started to move out together. But, my daughter and mother were lost on the way. I have been waiting for hours for boats so that I can search for my family members,' he said.
Angry flood victims said the boats were only being used to ferry government officials who wanted to take stock of the situation.
'The boats are not meant for villagers. Officials use them to visit the affected sites just to show that they are carrying out relief operations,' said Kaleem Mustafa, a resident of another flooded village, Meetpur.
'Had there been sufficient relief measures, why would we have started moving out of the villages on our own?' asked Asif Ali, a resident of Rajnapur village.
'The government is merely saying it is undertaking relief operations. The reality is completely different. Over 200 families of my village started evacuation only after no one came to their rescue,' Ali added.
District Magistrate Ravindra Nair admitted the possibility that all the boats meant for relief operations may not be functioning.
'As it has now come to my knowledge, we will again ensure that officials entrusted with the task of relief operations perform their work seriously,' Nair told IANS.
(Asit Srivastava can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)