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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

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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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Mountain

Nov 12, 2018

Crag Caucus: Veterans and Politicians Rock Climb Together with American Alpine Club

The “Hill to Crag” event series connects veterans and legislators on rock climbing excursions to advocate for public lands. AAC Chairman and active-duty US Army Major Byron Harvison serves the beta.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

Since its creation in 1902, climbing advocacy non-profit the American Alpine Club (AAC) has championed protection for the public lands that serve as unrivaled outdoor venues for climbers and other recreators. Their latest outreach program, the “Hill to Crag” initiative, offers lawmakers and their staff a chance to experience these public lands at iconic climbing spots across the nation. The excursions provision local elected officials with a fun day in a harness, a few sore muscles, and a heightened appreciation for public lands to parlay into protective legislature.

Golden, CO. Photo: Chad Vaughn

After the inaugural event in spring 2018, AAC’s Salt Lake Chapter Chair Byron Harvison saw the potential for veterans to contribute. Harvison, an Army Major and experienced climber, felt that veteran involvement could engender open dialogue. Conversations regarding public lands management can be polarizing; Harvison thinks politicians will respond positively to the testimonial of veterans. “Elected officials may be more inclined to hear what veterans have to say,” he says. Likewise, “discharged veterans oftentimes have a desire to continue to serve and this is a great opportunity.”

Golden, CO. Photo: Chad Vaughn

Harvison explains the Hill to Crag stratagem. “First, we talk about outdoor recreation as a way to deal with veteran-specific issues like PTSD, addiction, and depression following deployment,” he extolls. These dialogues are personal and poignant. Harvison focused on rock climbing after an intense deployment in Afghanistan, and he isn’t the only veteran to credit outdoor recreation with healing. “A lot of guys can say ‘Hey, getting outside saved my life’, and they are able to share those raw stories with these legislators,” he adds.

Harvison knows politicians are beholden to monetary interests and thus explicates the value of outdoor recreation on the local and national economy: “Nationally, outdoor recreation has surpassed the oil and gas industry in economic terms.” A recent government report estimates that outdoor recreation contributes $412 billion annually to the US GDP, and Harvison recognizes the potential for the industry to throw its weight around. “We are finding our voice and coming to realize how loud that voice can be,” he explains.

The crux of Harvison’s discourse is the indispensability of public lands protection. “All of these things—the mental health benefits and thriving outdoor economy—hinge on the availability of public lands to recreate on,” he summarizes.

Photo by Byron Harvison from the Golden, CO Hill to Crag event on October 12, 2018.

Chalk it up to smart strategy, productive dialogue, or a bit of crag magic, but the Hill to Crag events have already made an impact. The inaugural excursion in May of 2018 was testimony to the power of storytelling as pedagogy. Members of the AAC and climbing advocacy group the Access Fund brought Utah Congressman John Curtis to rock climbing mecca Joe’s Valley Boulders in Emery County, UT. Harvison explained to the lawmaker that “each climber contributes around $58 per night to the local economy of nearby Castle Dale.” Castle Dale, a tiny town of 3,500, hosts 19,000-25,000 climbers annually from around the world who are drawn to the area’s intricate sandstone boulders. Emery County faces the economic stagnation typical of a declining coal-mining community, but recreational tourism has considerable potential. “Climbing is a sustainable resource,” Harvison enthuses. “We were able to show Curtis the national and international appeal of our public lands.” In July of this year, Curtis proposed the Emery County Public Land Management Act, which would create a National Conservation Area out of the San Rafael Swell, designating over a half-million acres of the redrock desert parcel federally protected wilderness. The proposal juxtaposes nearly every piece of land-grab legislation to emerge from Utah in the past year and wagers on the economic potential of recreational tourism. Curtis’s proposition, on the heels of a Hill to Crag event, is radical in its embrace of public access instead of for-profit enterprise.

Photo by Dillon Parker from the Vedauwoo Recreation Area, WY Hill to Crag event on October 19, 2018.

Perhaps the AAC recognized the aptitude of rock climbing as a metaphor for public lands access when they launched the Hill to Crag program. Central to both climbing and public lands advocacy is an ethos of respect for natural resources and the responsible placing of protections, be them nuts and crams or legislature. The AAC will hold their final adventure of 2018 on November 16 in Chimney Rock State Park, North Carolina (pictured in cover photo). Harvison says that the program will launch spring events in Oregon and Montana and has plans for a route bolting clinic in Wyoming after a successful Hill to Crag climb in the state’s Vedauwoo Recreation Area last month. In concert with the Hill to Crag series, the American Alpine Club is also expanding veteran and active-duty military outreach with new discounted club membership options and targeted events.

Special thanks to US Army Major Byron Harvison, who was interviewed for this piece.

Cover photo by dconvertini via Flickr,

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