Kerala: How an Army Major who went home on vacation became a saviour

NEW DELHI: Indian Army Major Hemant Raj was all excited when he as about to fly to Kerala on a vacation to celebrate Onam with his family.

“I was quite excited to go to my hometown in Kerala to attend Onam. My leave was sanctioned and I had my flight scheduled for Kochi from Delhi,” the officer told IANS.

But when he reached Delhi, he came to know about the massive floods in Kerala, including in his hometown.

“I got to know that my family members were in relief camps and my village was completely flooded. I was informed that my flight to Kochi was canceled,” said Major Raj.

“I requested IndiGo officials to accommodate me in their flight to Thiruvananthapuram. I told them that I was keen to serve my people. The officials respected my uniform. I reached the state capital around 2 am on August 19,” he said.

In Thiruvananthapuram, the officer from the Army’s 28 Madras Shapath Shakti command contacted Air Force officials and requested them to airdrop him at Chengannur, where he found the situation pitiable; roads were flooded and there was no way he could have reached the interiors. Mobile phones were not working.

Near the helipad was a college where a relief camp had come up. “I came to know that my family members were also in a relief camp,” he said.

“I met a few ex-servicemen and students. We set up our ‘command center’ in Chengannur,” says the Major.

“We came in contact with 13 Garhwal Rifles rescue units which faced language problem. We offered them one local retired defense person each for their units. Local fishermen, too, came forward to help,” says Major Raj.

The teams went into the interiors of rural areas and returned with women and children who were waiting for help.

“I had a team of 35 ex-servicemen and students whom I was commanding, he said. “The local students brought laptops and phones and we set up a temporary operation center. We started noting the addresses where help was required; we called back to check if details were accurate,” said the Major.

People who saw the Major engaged in relief work posted his pictures on Facebook. “From these visuals, my wife, Theertha, came to know where I was and what I was doing.”

“Soon Theertha contacted me and told me that she, our son Ayan and my parents were in Kottayam, another flooded town,” said the officer. “I will be meeting them soon,” he said.

In three days, the Major and his team arranged to drop 10 tonnes of food each day. “Squadron leader Ansha helped us to drop the relief material at the right place.”

There was no electricity, the phone lines were down and cell phones could not be charged.

“I know radio jockeys. We requested Anjali Uthup, who is renowned singer Usha Uthup’s daughter, to appeal for power banks and high-power boats on her shows,” the Major said.

Responding to the appeals, rescuers sent them high-power boats and power banks, which helped the Major’s team to rescue scores of people who were stuck in the interiors of Chengannur relief camps.

Inputs From IANS