Mandakini pounces on Agastyamuni but pile-up created by cement mixer forces river to change course, leaving town mostly unharmed, says N Sundaresha Subramanian
A mobile cement mixer, often seen plying between construction sites in big cities, came to the rescue of the little town of Agastyamuni, when everything else gave away in front of the might of the Mandakini.
“The river had risen substantially above its normal level. This mixer, which is quite heavy, got stuck in some debris near the place where the river passes the middle of the main market. As more water flowed, washed-away vehicles started to pile up behind it and then there were several huge trees,” said Kedar Nath Chhibber, manager of State Bank of India’s (SBI) Agastyamuni branch.
This pile-up created a huge blockade on the left bank of the river, which forced the flow about 100 feet towards the right bank, saving several hundred shops and houses.
Kachpal Singh, removing sand thrown by the river into the house near the spot where the mixer lays buried in the pile of sand, said: “About 50 vehicles are lying buried inside. But for these, even our houses would have gone.”
But not everyone was as lucky. Just few hundred metres ahead of the “mixer dam”, the national highway and about 70 shops on both sides and several houses in the Vijayanagar areas have been uprooted as the river has carved out a new course for itself.
Bhupinder Singh Rana, whose shop has just survived and stands suspended precariously peeping into the roaring river, said: “About 40-45 shops on the right side of the road have been destroyed. On the left side of the road, where my shop stands, some 20 shops ahead of mine are gone. “
A pillar and some cables are what is left of a suspension bridge, which connected the market to villages on the other side. “This was a happening market. It served about 300-400 small villages in the entire valley. But all that is no more and 30-40 villages are cut off just because of this bridge being broken,” Rana said.
A relief camp has been set up at the inter-college at the southern end of the town. “About 337 families have so far registered as homeless in our camp,” said D P Bainjwal, an education department official who works in the camp.
The Agastyamuni camp also served several pilgrims who managed to walk down 70-km route from Kedarnath. “We served food for about 500 people everyday during the first few days.”
As roads are cut off on both ends, supplies to the camp arrive from Dehradun through helicopters. Not everybody is happy with the relief work. Singh said: “We have not received any help from the government. We are cleaning it all ourselves. Dead animals, machines all sorts of things are coming out of the sand.”
The government has distributed an interim cash relief of Rs 2,700 initially.
Vijay Pat Arya, whose house stands half submerged in sand near the only bridge that leads to Ganganagar on the right banks, said: “I am a teacher. I had invested all my savings in this house. I have not even repaid the loans. I don’t know what to do.”
Rana added: “For the shops washed away, they are talking about a relief of Rs 1 lakh. But the river has washed away land area worth over Rs 1.5 crore in the Vijayanagar market alone. How will they compensate that?”
The mixer might have probably saved the market, but its owners were not spared. The Larsen and Toubro hydel project site on the outskirts of Agastyamuni is in shambles.
Stores and construction materials kept on the right bank no longer exist. The approach road is hanging in the air. While the offices and other facilities on the left bank have survived they are cut off as several hundred metres of highway has fallen into the river.
“There was a huge boundary within which work on putting up turbines and power house was on, there was a cricket ground and a school. Nothing is left,” said Vir Pal, who operates the ambulance service funded by L&T.