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November 4, 2012

The Flood of 98 !

Watching the news reports of the devastation left in the wake of super storm 'Sandy' across north-eastern seaboard of United States , I was left re-living the days in September of 1998, when, because of  river Tapi flooding, I was stranded at my rented accommodation in Surat, while working at Philips.   here is how it happened
BAPS Swaminayaran temple under 10 feet of water
17th Sep 1998 ---Heavy rains in the catchment area of river Tapi had increased the water level at the Ukai dam reservoir to alarming levels. Engineers decide they need to discharge water from the reservoir to protect the dam from structural damage .  Ukai dam build in 1971 is an earthen & masonry dam just like the Bhagra Nangal ."Vallabh sagar" reservoir that the damming of river Tapi has created, is one of the largest in India and in case the dam walls fail, it would be an apocalypse for south Gujarat. Morvi dam failure which occurred in Aug 1979 when Machchu dam on the Machhu river burst sending a wall of water 20 feet high through the town of Morvi in Rajkot district, had already earned the state, entry in Guinness book of world records for worst dam failure

11:00 -- Local radio make announcement's warning the residents of Surat , located at the mouth of river Tapi, 90 kms downstream from the dam , that some of the 33 gates of the Ukai dam will be opened at 16:00 hrs to ease the pressure on the dam. Everyone in the low lying areas of the city needs to evacuate.  Similar release of water the previous year had brought limited flooding of mere 1 feet to the city, so the landlord of the house, Dineshbhai, where I lived on the 1st floor of a duplex house, while his family lived on the ground floor, recommended that I stay put in Surat instead of taking an afternoon train to Baroda and out of  harms way.

16:00  --- gates of the Ukai dam open , releasing thousands of cusecs of water into Tapi

Surat an ancient city, that even has a mention in Mahabharat, as a city where Lord Krishna stopped over on his journey from Mathura to Dwarka.  It was one of the biggest commercial ports during the Mughal era, but lost its prominense to Bombay in the 17th century. City is surrounded by river Tapi on its three sides, thus in case the river floods, the entire city is submerged

Map of River Tapi as it flows thru Surat

18:00 -- Adajan Patia, located 300 meters from the west bank of the river, behind the famous BAPS Swaminarayan mandir,a stone throw from Nehru bridge. Our housing society looked like a local fair, everyone was outside chatting with neighbours, in eager anticipation, of the flood waters. I brought some last minute essentials - biscuits & chips & candles & milk powder (for tea)

19:00 -- Just as it was about to get dark, water arrived, first like a gentle stream, just a few inches. Children were out playing, splashing , floating paper boats. . In Surat itself, it had not rained for several days, the roads were practically dry, and it is an eerie experience to see how the flood water sneaks up on you and transforms a dry landscape into a flowing river.

20:30 -- the water level had increased to about 1 feet and stayed that way, just as Dineshbhai had predicted. By now we had lost power. We all settled down to while away the night. And thinking, I had made a good call to stay back in town, I drifted into sleep to be abruptly woken up .

22:00 --Apparently Engineers at Ukai had to open up all the 33 gates, and instead of settling ,the water level was rising and rising fast. Already the flood waters had entered the ground floor .. and Dineshbhai had moved the family valuables on the loft, but they had no place to seat so they all joined me on the 1st floor
23:00 --- It was pitch dark outside with only quarter of the Moon and no power. And flood waters are remarkably silent. Only when we walked down the steps to the ground floor could we see how much much the water level had risen. Over 4 feet and climbing. River was flowing right past our main door !! Some neighbours speculated that Tapi being a tidal river, tide was causing the flood waters to reverse flow.To add to this drama, as the flood water rushed passed a parked car door, the burglar alarm went off . Now we had an added misery of having to listen to the burglar alarm for the rest of the night till the cars battery died down.

I do not know how we managed to pass that night, but I certainly know it was a long one..
Morning after .. city submerged in water
5:00 am ---at the first light of dawn, practically the entire colony was on roof tops .. and what a sight the entire city submerged in over 6 feet of water. With scooters and cars parked on the street completely invisible below the flood waters. And the water continued to flow rapidly , several dogs and couple of cows who had not taken protection on higher ground were sucked by the sheer velocity of the flood water, we all watched helplessly from roof tops . As the main river channel was just a stone throw away, it would take but a few mins, if someone was sucked in this swollen river, to be driven out to the sea just a 3-4 kms downstream

11:00 am --- it was stalemate, no power, sun burning down on us, as we all sat on the roof tops .. without morning tea ( because tea made up of milk powder tastes awful)

12:00 --- Finally the sound of the helicopter blades,, and suddenly the crowd on the roof tops came alive ... with everyone expecting that it to be a rescue helicopter to drop food packets .. but alas it was the helicopter of then Gujarat chief minister Amarsigh Chowdhary who was getting some photo ops , doing a air survey of the devastation caused by the floods !!

17:00 -- flood waters began to recede and by night fall, streets were free of water -- but in its trail it left a devastated city !!
It took months for the city to get back on its feet and made a deep dent in my sales targets at Philips and was transferred to Bhopal in Feb of 1999. I have never visited Surat ever since ! But Surat has been devastated by similar floods several times since 1998. With worst being in 2006, when water level were over 10 feet, almost 40% more than the levels of 1998.    I used to live in an housing block a stone throw from this Swami Narayan temple.
Disclosure--  During the floods of 1998, I did not own a camera, all the pictures here are from the Internet, and were not copyrighted by their owners.

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