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Swamped, after prayer for water

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By G.S. RADHAKRISHNA in Kurnool
  • Published 6.10.09
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Kurnool, Oct. 6: They prayed for rain, then they sank.

About a fortnight before floods swamped Kurnool, residents of this Andhra Pradesh town had sought divine intervention to end the drought that had dried up rivers and left them without food and water.

Today, after days of relentless rain, the town of about 4 lakh is a slushy swathe of silt. Electricity supply, switched off for reasons of safety, has been partially restored. Drinking water supply is being rationed.

“It will take another three days for the city to be clean,” said district collector Mukesh Kumar Meena. Drinking water, he added, was still being rationed in pots and bottles.

The toll in Kurnool, 225km from state capital Hyderabad, rose to 38 after 15 bodies were found today. Authorities put the number of deaths in Andhra so far at 87.

The plunge from drought to floods has brought in its wake another misery — rising prices.

Sona Masuri, a superior variety of rice the district is famous for, is now selling at Rs 100 a kilo. Even seven days ago, it was selling at Rs 32 a kilo.

The red gram dal, which normally costs Rs 50 a kilo, is now selling at Rs 120 a kilo. A kilo of onion costs Rs 40. Even a few days ago, the rate was Rs 7 to Rs 10. Milk is selling at Rs 50 a litre, double the normal price. The floodwaters have swept away nearly the entire cattle population of Kurnool district.

Some hotels, which have opened, are charging the sky. A plate of idli comes for Rs 20, nearly four times more than what it cost five days back.

“Why blame us. We are buying raw material at astronomical rates as local stocks have become soiled,” said Chandrasekhar Kalkura, the owner of a hotel and president of the district Congress committee.

“We are doing our best but the dynamics of shortages are taking over,” district collector Meena said.

The authorities are thinking of setting up rytu bazaars — where farmers sell their yield directly — to check rocketing prices in the black market. They are also planning community kitchens.

Normality is yet to return even two days after the floodwaters had drained out from the town, flanked by the rivers Handri and Tungabhadra and bisected by a canal. Government offices, banks, schools, temples and mosques remained closed.

The floods didn’t spare even the rich and the powerful.

Waters entered the home of industrialist tycoon T.G. Venkatesh, while the ground floor of the house of local MP Surya Prakash Reddy went under. “Floodwaters entered all homes up to the level of the first floor,” said Kamlekar, a Marathi businessman.

“Most of my 30,000 books have been destroyed,” said writer and historian Hiralal, whose one-storey home in Poola Bazaar, one of the areas worst hit, remained waterlogged for three days.

Around noon today, civic officials were struggling to remove silt from roads and canals. Mounds of slush and silt, as high as 25ft in some places, had piled on nearly 75 per cent of roads in the district town.

One resident blamed the authorities for neglecting the common man. “All government infrastructure is being used to clear debris and slush from the houses of MPs, MLAs and senior district officials, while the poor have to struggle on their own,” said Prakash Reddy, a zilla parishad schoolteacher.

The floods have made paupers of many small traders. “I lost goods worth Rs 25,000,” said Narayaran Rao, who deals in saris.

Some residents watched their belongings floating away in the floodwaters. They could do nothing.

Except pray for the rain to stop.