Non-stop rain that lasted for two days forced 55-year-old Sheela Devi to abandon her home where she has lived all her life.
Sheela’s home, part of a riverside dalit community in Uttarkashi, was a dangerous place to live - a concrete wall was all that separated her from the river.
This is not unusual for dalits and other marginalised communities who often have to live in unsafe places on land that no one else wants.
'I heard a huge bang, and the kitchen started shaking'
Sheela recalls: ‘I heard a huge bang, and the kitchen started shaking. We looked out of the window and saw the river swelling, and debris moving quickly towards us.
‘I was really scared and the children were crying. There wasn’t time to collect our belongings, and we left with just the clothes on our backs.
‘ I was too terrified to look back; we just had to run to higher ground.'
'We ran when the water was hip-high, and then we reached the main road. I was too terrified to look back; we just had to run to higher ground.
Food, water and blankets
Fortunately, Sheela and her family fled the floodwaters, finding refuge in a local school – currently a makeshift relief camp following the disaster.
Christian Aid partner Church's Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA) is working here alongside other local organisations providing food, water, blankets and essential medical assistance to families affected.
Nearly 100 families are staying here at the moment; although the school is soon due to reopen.
With many people’s homes either unsafe, filled with debris and sand; or simply destroyed, most do not know where they will go. The government has yet to decide.
Sheela continues: ‘The ground floor totally collapsed. The top floor is damaged. We can’t go back there, especially as the top floor could collapse at any moment. We’re too scared to go back, even though I have lived there my whole life.
‘It’s a question of life and death for us. Life is more important.’
The Indian government has said that it will compensate families who’ve suffered loss following the disaster, and so our partner CASA is supporting the community to ensure people receive the compensation they are entitled to.
They are assessing immediate need for food, water, blankets and essential medicines, as well as long-term solutions. Many families are demanding the government provide homes for them in safer areas.
Our partners CASA, Indo-Global Social Service Society (IGSSS) and Sustainable Environment and Ecological Development Society (SEEDS) are responding now, providing urgent support to 23,400 people in the three worst -affected districts of Uttarkhand state.