When the Rains Came

Amid floods, the women and men of India’s southwestern state of Kerala found strength in their faith and in one other

by Anubha George

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It began while many still slept.

Annamma remembers it vividly. It was about 4 a.m. on 16 August 2018. She had woken up early to make coffee for her husband in the kitchen of their home in the village of Kanjikuzhi, in the high ranges of the Idukki District. A heavy rain was falling outside. It had been that way in Kerala for much of the month. But people had adjusted to it. Life went on as usual.

“My husband, Thomas, wakes up early in the morning,” she says, recalling his daily routine. “He then reads the Bible, prays and then goes to church.

“He has done this since he was a boy, every single day without fail. This was like any other morning: He prayed. I made him coffee.”

Then, everything changed.

Without warning, life as usual was shattered. A coconut tree crashed into the house. Water poured in; the walls crumbled. It was a landslide.

“I fainted,” Annamma says. “My son and husband had to carry me to safety.”

As with many in her village, Annamma was stunned. “We’ve lived here for generations,” she says. “It is so safe. I have no idea what happened.”

The monsoon rains hammered the state for days on end, causing heavy flooding throughout. Dams burst. More than a million people were affected; most of them were displaced from their homes. Across Kerala, at least 400 people died. Many of the higher villages such as Idukki were crippled by landslides.

“The landslide destroyed the house,” Annamma says.

Along with the house, the storm also swept away Annamma’s livelihood.

“Most of us here grow cocoa, coffee, coconuts, plantains and black pepper. The landslide destroyed it all.”

Annamma was forced to leave her home. The Kerala government declared it unsafe. It was decided the residents would have to buy land elsewhere, for which the government would provide financial assistance.

“We’re looking for land. So at the moment, we’re renting a house nearby,” Annamma explains. “But it is expensive — about $42 a month. It means we can’t buy medicines for high blood pressure and diabetes, which my husband and I both need.”

Annamma cannot hold back the tears. She cries while telling her story. But she is not alone; the Rev. Sebastian Kochupurackal has been there to console her — and along with his presence and support, the church has been able to offer resources, guidance, prayers and, most significantly, hope.

Father Kochupurackal is the executive director of the High Range Development Society (H.R.D.S.), the social welfare arm of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Idukki, founded in 2008.

“We work for the development of communities here, to help and educate them,” says Father Kochupurackal.

“The landslides here really showed that more work needs to be done to create eco-awareness and natural disaster rehabilitation.”

Putting such advocacy on hold for the moment, members of the local church rolled up their sleeves and went to work. In addition to raising 4.8 million rupees, or more than $67,000, to support those who lost their homes and their livelihoods, “the church staff decided to donate a month’s salary to the flood victims,” Father Kochupurackal says.

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