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Race against raging river

Calcutta, May 25: As he watched the Thakuran swell all morning, Shankar Nasker sensed danger.

Then, around 10am, the 52-year-old farmer from Kultali’s Ambikanagar in South 24-Parganas sprang to his feet in his hut.

He saw the Thakuran breach an embankment near his village, less than 2km from the riverbank. “As I saw the paddy fields get flooded, I panicked. I got hold of my wife and two children and whatever belongings we could gather, and headed for the school. I knew the floods had begun,” Nasker said this afternoon from the Ambikanagar High School, which has been turned into a flood relief camp as it is located on higher ground.

Nasker appeared to have acted in time: Ambikanagar was under five feet of water this evening.

Some 12,000 villagers had taken shelter in camps like Nasker’s in villages around Ambikanagar. Most of them had the roofs blown off their mud houses.

Nagenabad, Binodpur, Baikunthapur and Kishorimohanpur were some of the nearby villages that faced the fury of the storm-whipped Thakuran.

Fisherman Gopal Giri was walking through a winding mud track in Binodpur when he spotted the river’s waters swamp the fields. “I knew the embankments had been breached. I ran home as fast as I could,” the 45-year-old said.

Once home, he told his mother, wife and his two children that the river had broken through the embankments and was flooding the village. The only place to escape: the local high school, which is on higher ground. “We have hardly eaten anything since the morning. The authorities have given us some gur and muri. Some khichuri is being prepared for the night.”

Swapan Haldar, a 40-year-old farmer from Nagenabad, regretted that he could do nothing for the cattle he had left behind at home. “I have two cows and two goats,” said Haldar, who is also sheltered in a camp set up in the local school. He seemed to fear the worst. “This evening, I saw some cattle floating in the water. They were dead. I guess my cattle will meet the same fate.”

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