Chennai floods: Singapore volunteers recall painful scenes

Chennai floods: Singapore volunteers recall painful scenes
A red cross booth erected near evacuation areas where victims can redeem their 'token' for relief items.
PHOTO: Singapore Red Cross

She is just 13 years old and she lost her father right before her eyes, when he was swept away by the strong currents of the floods in Chennai, India.

Residents of the area found the body of her father, the sole breadwinner of her family, adrift in the water a few days later.

This is one of the many sad stories that Singaporeans Abdul Jamal Abdul Hameed, 49, and Tony Kee, 50, heard from flood survivors when they were in Chennai as part of flood relief efforts with the Singapore Red Cross (SRC).

The home-grown humanitarian organisation deployed a response team to Chennai last Wednesday, a week after the capital city of Tamil Nadu state was badly hit by the worst rains of the century.

The team was there to help with relief items distribution and to conduct on-ground assessment.

DISTRIBUTE

Made up of three volunteers and one staff member, they joined the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) to distribute more than 1,000 relief packs that had towels, mosquito nets, blankets and bread.

Mr Jamal, who has been taking part in overseas relief efforts for the past 11 years, said: "When I heard that the SRC was looking for volunteers to go to Chennai, I jumped at the chance to help. I wanted to make a difference in people's lives."

The technician said his family was supportive of his work and that made him even more eager to help. He took two days of annual leave.

Another volunteer, Mr Kee, a Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) instructor, said that although his wife was worried at first, she supported him because he was so keen to go.

Over four days, the pair travelled to the badly affected areas in Chennai to conduct assessments and to give victims tokens that are redeemable for items such as kitchen sets, food and bottled water.

Mr Jamal said the tokens are given depending on the size of the family.

The father of three added: "It's difficult to gauge how much a family needs.

"Sometimes, I just feel like giving all my tokens to them, but I remember that I need to ration it out so that everybody receives help equally."

Victims who are issued the tokens can visit Red Cross booths set up several metres from public evacuation areas.

Mr Kee, a father of one, said the most heartbreaking sight was how the victims would rush to any vehicle that entered their villages.

He said: "They will just start queueing up beside the vehicles, thinking we've brought food."

The pair told The New Paper that there are no words to describe the difficulties the victims are in.

Mr Jamal said: "We came across one lady trying to dry a bunch of documents. She laid it all on the ground and used stones as paperweight."

Mr Kee added: "She's one of the lucky ones. The rest had nothing on them, no birth certificates, no identification whatsoever. They are in such a devastating state."

They were also told by villagers that during the floods, the water level was measured by the waste stuck on trees.

"They would see rubbish stuck to a tree bark and they'll measure it to the existing water level. That's how they tell whether the water has receded or not," said Mr Jamal.

SRC secretary-general and CEO Benjamin William said there is a steady stream of donors and volunteers who have come forward, but the devastation caused by the floods is quite extensive.

More than 270 people died and thousands are still homeless.

"We would like to encourage the people of Singapore to continue to stand in solidarity with our friends in India who are affected by these catastrophic floods," he said.

Mr Kee and Mr Jamal urged the public to do their part and contribute.

Said Mr Kee: "I saw homeless people crying for help.

"I hope our local community can lend a helping hand to the flood victims who are in need."

SCHOOLS REOPEN AFTER FLOODS

Schools and colleges in the city and neighbouring districts of Tamil Nadu resumed classes on Monday, more than a month after they were ordered shut on Nov 12, due to the floods.

With water levels receding, the schools in Chennai saw about 90 per cent attendance as parents and students welcomed the reopening.

A major concern of parents and teachers is the effect of the month-long unexpected closure of schools on senior students who will be sitting for public examinations in a few months, reported The Hindu newspaper.

School examinations were postponed because of the floods, and even the city's university, one of the oldest in the country, had to put off semester examinations, according to BBC.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Donors are now also able to contribute to the Singapore Red Cross "South India Floods Appeal" via DBS/POSB ATM, DBS PayLah!, DBS iBanking and DBS mobile banking.

For more information or a step-by-step guide on how to donate, please visit www.redcross.sg/news/donate-to-south-india-floods-2015


This article was first published on December 18, 2015.
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