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Environment

Sep 08, 2018

The Remarkable Motorsport Team Who Swam to Save Lives, During the Kerala Floods

Despite endless setbacks, this group persevered and risked their own lives by swimming up to 12km at a time, to convince people to climb into their rafts and abandon homes to the rising water.

WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

A pregnant woman sent out an emergency call during Kerala floods and AT Rovers, a motorsport and adventure team, were on their way – Swimming 12km at a time. AT Rovers got the call when no one else was able to reach such an isolated location. Snakes and debris were in the flood water, as they traversed submerged paddy fields and roads. The final leg of the rescue was the hardest, as the water got deeper in darker surroundings. Not knowing what they were swimming towards, unaware of the creatures that might be in the water, the team finally reached the remote village they were targeting, near Thiruvala.

“We couldn’t get on the raft since it had to be kept dry. Instead, we carried the rafts with us while swimming 12 km to reach the place. It was so scary out there,” recalls Abraham, the founder of AT Rovers, who had to keep the raft dry for the pregnant woman.

Once the team reached the location, the pregnant woman refused to be rescued, telling them that she had only called because of a high fever. Instead, she wanted to stay, hoping that the water levels would go down, but she had no idea that the water was rising and extended up to a radius of 12 km. Despite informing her of this, she still didn’t want to leave her home and the team had to give up. On their return, they did manage to rescue a few other people on their way.

Photo: Abraham Tharakkan

“The biggest challenge we faced is that people were reluctant to get into the vehicles because they were scared.”

AT Rovers were founded as motor sports company, with a focus on rallying. However, when help was needed, they stepped up and played a significant role in rescue operations during the Chennai Floods and the recent Kerala Floods. When the Chennai floods happened in 2015, they were called in for the relief operations to supply food materials. “Once we reached Chennai, we understood that our role is not in carrying relief materials. Our vehicles were more capable, so we started rescue operations there,” says Abraham.

During the recent Kerala floods, AT Rovers didn’t give it a second thought and again jumped back into their search and rescue role.

“We had 14 vehicles, and we lost a few on the way. But spirits were way too high and our entire team of 30 people (15 on the ground) were really passionate,” says Abraham.

These were not the only setbacks, and rescue operations were on the verge of closing due to logistical difficulties, but their cause was soon saved via social media. The team had started the mission with a few four-wheelers and two rafts but within a couple of days, they lost both the rafts.  The only option was to abandon the mission, since rafts became essential for the rescue operation. Their social media page was updated with the same information.

Photo: Abraham Tharakkan

“That was a positive sight, in a way. Families rarely sit together in these times of Internet, TV and cell phones.”

That’s when the Navy reached out to them and offered life rafts. The only catch was that it was in Kochi, at a time when all airports and roads were closed and the only transport option was the cargo railways. With social media support, an individual picked up the raft from the naval base, delivered it to the railway official, who then handed it over to AT Rovers in Trivandrum. Kayak Adventures also offered help through the social media page and sent one of their rafts.

With a lot of support, now they were equipped and ready to get back in the field, convincing the pregnant woman to leave her home.

“The biggest challenge we faced is that people were reluctant to get into the vehicles because they were scared. They didn’t want to leave their homes abandoned. They wanted to stay back,” says Abraham.

Photo: Abraham Tharakkan

Perhaps, it’s hard for human beings to let go even while facing severe calamity. Maybe, they thought of the future and the challenges they would face after the floods, without a home.

“Until 7 pm, the situation was still manageable. Then they opened the dams on the night of 16th August, and the water came in like the ocean.”

AT Rovers ended up saving 43 people including a 6-month old infant. They were on the mission for almost 2 weeks, and returned to Trivandrum daily from the worst affected areas, to service their vehicles. There were some other people that they weren’t able to find, but fortunately managed to survive none the less.

When rescuers from AT Rovers were driving and rafting around the flooded regions in Kerala, Abraham, the founder, noticed a family. They didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger. With a candle light, they sat on the balcony talking to each other.

“That was a positive sight, in a way. Families rarely sit together in these times of Internet, TV and cell phones,” remarks Abraham.

In a flooded home, Ramanan waited for four days on the first floor balcony, along with his wife, a 6-month old infant, and two relatives. He built it after working in UAE and saving money for over 30 years.  Living in the remote area of Thiruvala, he noticed rescuers at a distance. They were too far to hear him, and he didn’t know how to get to them, with the little baby in hand.

“Until 7 pm, the situation was still manageable. Then they opened the dams on the night of 16th August, and the water came in like the ocean. The government says that they will give us money, but we haven’t heard anything from them. The roads are all clean now and no one has come to help or enquire about us yet. I feel so happy that you called us to ask how we are,” Ramanan says.

”But who knows if they will give us anything? I wish those well who might receive some money from the government.”

Ramanan is 56 years old. He suffered losses of over 50 lakhs, and reckons that it will take at least 3 years to rebuild everything. To claim any support, he has been running around with his identity card and filling forms.”But who knows if they will give us anything? I wish those well who might receive some money from the government,” he says. As for the damage of basic amenities, the entire well, the family’s main source of drinking water, is filled with flood water. They have been buying bottled drinking water and relentlessly cleaning the house. He is trying to do everything possible to protect his family from possible diseases. Currently, there are almost 200 confirmed and suspected cases of rat fever after the floods.

Ramanan’s family was the kind of family that Abraham noticed while rafting back from the village. It’s hard to judge from a distance. Having survived the flood, Ramanan seemed more worried about rebuilding his home than feeling thankful for living. He is retired. Since he lost most things that he built from his savings, including two cars, he is counting on his children to help him live peacefully for his remaining years. His perspective shows that survival after a natural disaster isn’t always a sign of hope.

AT Rovers is now involved in assisting families in cleaning and providing relief supplies after the floods.

AT Rovers asked to say a special thanks to all who helped out during the rescue operations:

The crew: Abraham George Tharakan, Sanooj Sadanandan, Jithin Ignatius, Philip Mathew ,Harikrishnan Ns, Ajeesh Surendran, Uday Thampi, Manu Muraleedharan, Akhil Faisal, Sidharth Radhakrishnan, Bhadraj Ramachandran, Ejaz Salim, Abhilash Gopalakrishnan,
Midhun John U, Rahul Krishnankutty

Kayak AdventureWIT — Where In Trivandrum, Indian oil corporation, PTC fuels and Govind and Co, Patoor, The Indian Navy, @at_carmodz, Kerala Police, and Fire force.

Most importantly, everyone who shared information and locations which helped them reach out to people on time.

Follow AT Rovers: www.facebook.com/ATRovers/

Help Rebuild Kerala:

www.ketto.org/fundraiser/KeralaFloods

www.keralarescue.in/

 

 

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Boulder

Sep 17, 2018

“Frack”-tured Community: Colorado Plans to Alter the Future of Natural Gas Drilling

The grassroots initiative, which Boulder voters will see on the ballot come November, would mandate a state-wide, half-mile “buffer zone” of fracking wells from occupied buildings.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

Hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as “fracking”, has been controversial since it became the widespread method of shale gas production over the past decade. The technique involves pumping millions of gallons of highly-pressurized water and chemicals into deep shale formations to proliferate cracks and free gas for extraction. On Colorado’s crowded Front Range, where land is a premium, active wells operate within arm’s reach of houses, schools, and other occupied structures.

Fracking proponents say that the practice has drastically increased U.S. natural gas production, lowered energy prices, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions via displacing coal burning in electricity generation. Opponents of fracking cite many potential health and environmental hazards of the practice including methane leakage, groundwater contamination, radioactive wastewater, and well fires.

significantly more likely to have a low birth-weight baby

According to Colorado Rising, a grassroots non-profit committed to exposing fracking’s health and safety concerns, fracking’s toll on public health outweighs the economic benefits. Research from the Colorado Public School of Health indicates that proximity to fracking operations poses serious risks to health and safety. Among these risks include exposure to cancer-causing toxins such as benzene and air pollutants. An analyses of public health research at the University of Chicago examined correlation between prenatal health and proximity to fracking wells and found that mothers living within a half-mile radius of active wells were significantly more likely to have a low birth-weight baby than mothers who lived farther away. This half-mile radius, incidentally, is the amount of buffer the ballot proposition would require.

The research is preliminary, however, as it cannot definitively prove point-source contamination. To date, no double-blind studies have ever linked fracking directly to low birth weights. But according to spokesperson Anne Lee Foster of Colorado Rising, “Weld County is the most fracked county (host to over 23,000 wells) and has twice the still-born rate of other Colorado counties”. She claims the spike in still-borns occurred in 2009, after a 2008 influx in natural gas drilling. But the list of environmental hazards does not end with carcinogens. The Colorado Rising report also condemns fracking’s environmental toll. Their briefing states that because of methane leakage, “…fracking, transporting and burning natural gas for electricity is likely as bad as or worse for climate change than coal or oil”. The jury is still out on this claim. Granted, fracking is energy-intensive and petrochemical-dependent, but burning natural gas emits half as much carbon dioxide as burning oil or gasoline. Methane leakage in drilling and pipeline transportation is minor, though Colorado Gas & Oil industry officials and public health activists like Colorado Rising disagree on the amount and impact of leakage.

Despite its controversy, there are approximately 50,000 active oil and gas wells in Colorado, many of them concentrated in Boulder and Weld Counties. Under current legislature, fracking operations can take place 500 feet from an occupied home and 1,000 feet from a school building.

do Colorado residents share Foster’s precautionary mindset, or are the economic gains too good to forgo?

Public demand for an expanded mandatory buffer zone from occupied buildings compounded after a 2017 incident in which an open gas line from an operating well leaked into a Firestone home, causing an explosion that killed two. Colorado Rising wrangled over 172,000 signatures for their “Safer Setbacks from Fracking” initiative, which was subsequently approved for November’s ballot. The regulation would underscore the burgeoning research on detrimental public health and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing—research that Colorado’s oil and gas industry might call inchoate and inconclusive. It would increase the mandatory buffer zone between oil and gas wells and occupied buildings to 2,500 feet—a move that the Colorado Petroleum Council has deemed “job-killing” and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association has said risks “more than $1 billion in taxes for schools, parks, and libraries, and our nation’s energy security”. And Weld County, situated on potent shale, has benefited from the incursion of jobs and money brought by the industry’s presence in the area.

The future of Colorado’s oil and gas sector is up in the air, and the proposed initiative would significantly reduce the amount of viable drilling land in populated regions of the state. As Anne Lee Foster summarizes, “the general consensus is that negative health impacts are possible, and it’s best to err on the side of caution”. November’s vote will tap into the metaphorical shale deposits of public sentiment towards fracking; do Colorado residents share Foster’s precautionary mindset, or are the economic gains too good to forgo?

Special thanks to Anne Lee Foster, who was interviewed for this piece. The Colorado Oil and Gas Board did not respond to request for commentary.

Cover photo courtesy of Brett Rindt.

Resources and Further Reading: A Denver Post report on fire and gas explosions, political commentary by Colorado Politics, a public health report by Colorado Rising, The Colorado Rising website, A Popular Mechanics article on 10 Most Controversial Claims About Natural Gas Drilling, A New York Times article,

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