‘This is worse than the Kosi of folklore’

August 29th, 2008 - 12:02 pm ICT by IANS  

Murliganj (Bihar), Aug 29 (IANS) Mahesh Rai and his cousin Narendra Rai, both 20, have never before seen the Kosi river wreak such a havoc. Even their fathers, who are in their early 40s, don’t remember anything like this.They are among the hundreds of people in villages under the Murliganj block in Madhepura district who are battling the surging floodwaters of the Kosi - known in folklore as the sorrow of Bihar because of the devastation it can cause.

“It is a lifetime’s memory for me. If I survive, I will tell these stories of helplessness and life on the edge to the younger generation,” said Narendra, looking scared.

A college dropout, he said he had seen floods in the past, but the devastation wrought by the river was new to him.

He and Mahesh have taken shelter on an elevated road linking Murliganj to the neighbouring Purnea district, about a kilometre from their village. So have hundreds of other families in this devastated eastern Indian state where nearly 50 people have died due to flood, said to be the worst in half a century, and nearly 2.7 million people affected or displaced.

It has been over 10 days since the Kosi changed its course after almost two centuries, sweeping over large swathes of the state. And the realisation is gradually dawning that these are not the normal floodwaters that recede in a few days.

Last week, after the Kosi swelled following a breach in an embankment upstream in Nepal, marooned people waited more for rescue than for relief.

About two million people in 14 Bihar districts have been affected by the floods, the most seriously hit areas being Madhepura, Supaul and Araria.

Mahesh said they had heard stories from elders about the sorrow that the Kosi could heap on the people but had never seen it before.

“This is the first time we have come across the sorrow caused by the river. It is more dangerous than what folklore makes it out to be in this rural belt,” Mahesh, his head tightly covered in a bright red cotton turban like so many youths in the region, told IANS here.

Bhubinder Rai, in his late 50s, who was sitting just three feet away on the bare road, said even his 70-year-old father has not seen such devastation.

“We have seen floods; it is an annual phenomenon here, but the Kosi river changing its course and shifting riverbeds is a different story altogether,” he said.

A group of youths taking shelter on railway tracks near Murliganj said they were experiencing destruction and threat to their life for first time by floodwaters caused by a change of the river course.

“The way the river changed its course and brought problems and is threatening hundreds of thousands of of people, it appears that the god of nature is angry with us,” said Kapil Yadav, in his early 20s.

He used to work with a local contractor and fears that development work will be out of question for a few months due to the floodwaters.

After an aerial survey of the flooded areas, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar described the flood situation as a catastrophe, not a normal flood.

Worried over the safety of thousands of marooned people, the state government has repeatedly appealed to them to move to safer places.

Besides, the government is trying hard to evacuate people.

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