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Boy swims to sit for exam
- Nearly 14000 marooned in five blocks

A woman wades through water with her child in her arms at Saradapally in Jalpaiguri on Monday.
Picture by Biplab Basak

July 16: The Jalpaiguri administration today deployed two elephants to rescue marooned people in one of the worst flood-affected blocks in the district — a mode of rescue unheard of till now in north Bengal.

The elephants would rescue the old and the ailing first, officials said.

“We approached the forest department for trained elephants to reach out to 300 families stranded in Khairkata village in Nagrakata block,” district magistrate Smaraki Mahapatra said. In Mal, Rajganj, Mainaguri and Dhupguri there was severe water-logging she said.

“According to our estimate, about 13,900 people in these blocks have been marooned. We have opened five temporary relief camps in Mainaguri and Jalpaiguri Sadar where about 1,900 people have taken shelter so far,” Mahapatra said.

The official said the army would be asked to be on standby in case the elephants prove ineffective.

Inflated boats by the army are generally used to rescue people from marooned areas. In some cases, helicopters are used to airdrop food and medicines. Today, civil defence speed boats were used in Siliguri’s rural areas and in Jalpaiguri Sadar to take people to dry land.

But in areas close to the Bhutan border, such as Khairkata, speedboats were be used because the rivers there often carry down boulders with the current that could damage the boats, officials said.

According to Bidyut Sarkar, the divisional forest officer of Jalpaiguri, the elephants, Surjya and Phulmoti, reached Khairkata from the Dhupjhora beat office, about 22km away, around 6pm.

Khairkata village is completely under water because two rivers — the Diana and the Kuchi Diana—changed course, merged and flooded the area.

The flooding was a result of steady rain for two days that caused several mountain rivers to swell and change course.

“Around 7pm, the two elephants reached Khairkata guided by battery-operated searchlights. They were carrying medicines, drinking water, dry food and rice. We will try and rescue the old and ailing first. One elephant can carry five persons, the mahout and a forest guard,” he said.

Till late tonight, the elephants had not returned to Dhupjhora.

Dasai Oraon, however, did not wait for the elephants to come to his rescue.

The Class IX student of Nagrakata High School waded through waist-deep water of the swollen Kuchi Diana because he has his annual examination tomorrow.

The boy from Khairkata tied a rope to a tree, waded across the river and tied the other end of the rope to a post so that his three friends could also cross over to Nagrakata.

District authorities fear that breaches in river embankments could aggravate the flooding in some parts.

The executive engineer of the district irrigation department, Asim Chowdhury, said: “There has been a breach on 150m on the Reti river in Banarhat and the embankment of the Teesta has been damaged in Malbazar and Mainaguri as well as in Parkalchi in adjacent Cooch Behar. The embankment of the Jaldahaka river in Dhupguri has a 12m breach.”

State irrigation minister Manas Bhunia, who toured flood-affected areas in Siliguri today, said the government was preparing a master plan to carry out extensive repair work on the damaged embankments.

The minister, who was in a car, went to Milan More and Fulbari, where around 1,500 homes are under water.

Excess water from the Teesta canal has spilled over the banks and inundated around 1,000 homes in Fulbari and over 500 families are marooned at Milan More where the Mahananda has deviated from its course and breached a 300m stretch of the embankment, wiping away a road on the river’s right bank.