Cuddalore (TN), Dec 20: Broken branches of their cashew tree saved the lives of K Balakrishnan and his wife Kalyani when the monster flood engulfed their village in Tamil Nadu's Cuddalore district.
Shivers went down the spines of the landless Dalit couple on November 9, when water gushed into their thatched hut at Periyakattupalayam, rising menacingly by the minute.
"The speed and volume of water flow was threatening and it soon began filling the hut. When we tried to get out, we saw the entire neighbourhood was rapidly getting flooded," said Balakrishnan, recounting the horror.
He said the only option for them was to climb the loft. "The loft became very shaky. Hence, I and my wife climbed a litter higher and clung on to the central supporting bamboo of the hut and placed our legs over another bamboo," he said.
"Soon, the front legs (bamboos) of the hut caved and we began seriously doubting our chances of survival. Luckily, when the hut began shaking vigorously, some bamboo poles in got stuck in the fallen branches of our broken cashew tree," he said, lending a prop to the hut and preventing it from falling and being swept away by the violent current.
As the water level kept increasing, the terrified couple removed patches of the thatched roof and, craning their necks out, waited for help. "In that position we kept crying for help for seven hours," he recalled. The couple was rescued after Balakrishnan's nephew and another relative spotted them.
"The broken branches of our cashew tree made all the difference between life and death. Without them, we would have been dead," he said.
D Samydurai, another resident of the village, said the next day people came to know that ten people had been swept away by the violent currents.
Bodies were found stuck in branches of trees and floating on turgid waters. A small-time sound service entrepreneur, Samydurai lost Rs 45,000 worth of equipment including speakers and amplifiers.
Samydurai said water from the overflowing mines of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation made things worse. Today, the Dalit colony of Periakattupalayam has been reduced to a ghost town with most residents moving to a relief camp nearby.
While most huts have been washed away, tiled and partly concrete tenements are badly damaged. Samydurai alleged bias in awarding compensation to those whose houses were destroyed. "A landlord gets the same compensation for the loss of a dwelling unit just like a landless labourer," he said.