Bihar town echoes with emptiness as waters flood in, people move out

By Imran Khan, IANS,

Madhepura (Bihar) : The clouds darken ominously and the rain pelts down lending more fury to the floodwaters that are surging in — forcing people out of their homes and the city for what could be two days, two weeks or even two months. Nobody knows.

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As the Kosi river, sometimes known as the sorrow of Bihar, changes its course after almost two centuries and sweeps over large swathes of the state, the realisation is gradually dawning. This may not be a normal flood where the waters recede after a while.

A week after the Kosi swelled over following a breach in an embankment upstream in Nepal, the government holds out little hope either.

According to state Disaster Management Minister Nitish Mishra, over 10,000 of the 45,000 population in the town, about 250 km from the state capital Patna, have fled in the last 24 hours.

“More will move out of the town by tonight or tomorrow as the water level is rising. There is little hope that it will recede,” he said, making it clear that the waters may be there till October and people have no option but to move to safer places.

His message seems to have been heard in this town swamped by three to seven feet of water.

Low lying areas like Ambedkar Nagar and Jai Prakash Nagar have become virtual ghost towns with people fleeing, and those who can’t taking refuge in the higher floors.

Crowds can be seen boarding jeeps, buses, autorickshaws and any other vehicle they clamber on to get out of town with the few belongings they could pack as they left their homes behind. Adding to the panic is the heavy rainfall.

“What can we do, we are leaving everything to god’s mercy,” said Maheshwar Gupta, who runs a catering business, while catching a bus to Patna.

“For most people, the only concern is safety for life,” added Mahesh Rai, who runs a dairy business and was boarding a vehicle to take him to Saharsa and was hoping to catch a train to Darbhanga thereafter.

The town echoes with emptiness.

Most shops, except for a couple of chemists, are shut. Government and private offices as well as educational institutions are closed too.

“There was panic among people, a rare thing in my memory here. People were
just trying to get out any way they could to escape floodwaters,” said Baban Singh Yadav, a teacher in a private school.

Train traffic from Madhepura, once Railway Minister Lalu Prasad’s constituency and now represented by Rashtriya Janata Dal’s jailed MP Pappu Yadav in parliament, has been totally disrupted.

Revenue and Land Reforms Minister Narayan Yadav, who is camping in Madhepura for the last five days to monitor the situation, has issued an appeal to people to leave the town as soon as possible.

The minister himself was forced to leave his airconditioned room in the circuit house, with some saying that people’s anger was too much to cope with and others maintaining that the premises were waterlogged.

About 550 inmates of the Madhepura Jail have been shifted to the Saharsa district jail Tuesday evening.

Some have not been so lucky. Like labourer Mahesh Mahto, who has no money to leave town.

“The government should rescue us; we are poor and have no means of survival,” he said, while standing on a high platform near the bus stand.

People in Madhepura are not the only ones suffering. Dozens of boats have been deployed in Darbhanga town to rescue people, and district officials estimate that thousands of people in rural areas are marooned.

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