The floods in Kerala and Karnataka in months of July-August 2018 caused widespread devastation. According to official figures, 483 people died as a result of the floods and about a million people were displaced. A group of drone enthusiasts from Bengaluru decided to volunteer in the search and rescue efforts. We talked with Mateen Baig, who was part of this group, about the group’s experience and what the situations that they faced in the affected areas.
The volunteering effort was initiated by one of Mateen’s friend who contacted the Police and the Fire Department personnel in Bengaluru. The group consisted of 5 people, including Mateen, each of whom operated their own drones. After getting all the required permissions, the volunteers reached Madikeri where they set up their camp. At Madikeri, they split in two teams and each team was assigned two local escorts. Each team went in a different direction to survey the affected areas. The areas covered by them included Gaalibeedu, Ranipet, Somwarapet, Makkanduru and the Madikeri-Mangalore Highway.
When they reached the affected areas they found tremendous destruction caused due to the floods and landslides. Mateen describes seeing complete villages washed away with barely the roofs of houses remaining visible. In some cases, Mateen says, situation looked normal from the ground but when viewing the surroundings from 30m above through a drone, one could see an immense amount of damage and destruction. Though the weather was inclement, the team tried to fly as many sorties as possible to assess the damage. Mateen mentions that there were 8 landslides on a 10km stretch of the Mangalore-Madikeri Highway.
Mateen says that the whole experience of seeing such an amount of destruction shook him but it also provided him and his team with a sense of satisfaction over contributing towards the rescue and relief efforts. Though with the upcoming regulations on NPNT requirement, Mateen is a bit concerned about being able to provide drone surveying during disaster relief efforts. This is because NPNT requires a drone to be near a cell phone tower to get permission to take off. This is not possible since most cell towers are destroyed or get disabled during natural disasters. In spite of this, he remains hopeful that the government will take note of the benefits of using drones during disaster relief efforts and take steps to allow their operation during such times.
Watch a compilation of videos shot by Mateen during the relief efforts: