September 30, 2014

Flood Kills Teacher at Adventist School in India

Adventist boarding school in northeast India has been devastated by a flash
flood that killed one teacher and forced it to close its doors to 900
elementary and high school students for at least a month or two.

swamped Riverside Adventist Academy in the Indian state of Meghalaya after heavy
torrential rain unexpectedly caused the banks of the nearby Didram River to

“The damage was so great that it is hard to estimate the
loss,” said Lionel F. Lyngdoh, president of the church’s Northeast India Union,
which operates the school.

“The kitchen, dining hall and all the ground-floor buildings
were submerged under about seven feet of floodwater,” he said by e-mail after
visiting the site. “The flood current was so strong that all cooking
utensils, foodstuffs, benches, and chairs from the dining hall were carried
away. Even the iron gate was thrown outside.”

Riverside Academy teacher Rituraj Phukan, 27, posing with his wife, Rosaline. Phukan died in the flood. Credit: Facebook

He said the greatest loss, however, was Rituraj Phukan, 27, an
Indian national who had taught at the school since 2008.

and staff, reeling in shock over the flood and the death, described Phukan as a hero who had rescued
scores of students before being washed away in the surging waters.

school is in total shock,” said Koberson Langhu, an Indian national studying in
the Philippines who has been in close contact with people from the academy. “The students are in shock. Everyone is in shock. They cannot even
fathom what has happened to them.”

people lost all their possessions, and some even resigned themselves to certain

is an annual occurrence during monsoon season in northeast India, which sees
some of the heaviest rainfall in the world. But flash floods of the type
witnessed last week are rare.

“At present, the students have been sent home. It may take one or two months to start again,”
said T.P. Kurian, communication
director for the church’s Southern Asia Division, which oversees the Northeast India Union.

Kurian said at least 10
people not affiliated with the school also died in the flooding.

Adventist Academy opened in 2007 with the goal of offering affordable education
to local residents. The Northeast India Union also designated it as an
institution to provide free education to Adventist orphans and poor students.

remains unclear how much it will cost to reopen the school. Lyngdoh, the
union president, said he was assessing the costs.

School Caught Unaware

staff raised the alarm at about 4 a.m. on Sept. 22 when water from the Didram
River, located about a five-minute walk from the campus, swept over the
property line, said Langhu, whose wife’s uncle works as the academy’s finance manager. Immediately, the staff began
to wake up the 430 students who live on campus and to evacuate them to
the top floor of the school buildings.

people had not expected such a flood, and it caught them unaware,” Langhu said.
“Only when it entered the campus did people realize what was happening, and by
that time it was too late to save their property and even personal belongings,
only their lives.”

those who took the lead in evacuating the frightened children from the
fast-rising water was Phukan, a science teacher and boys’ dorm supervisor.

by the time he was ready to save himself, the water currents had become much
stronger,” Langhu said. “The wood that he was
clinging to broke and got swept away. Nobody was in a position to save him
without endangering themselves. His body was found the next day in a paddy field
far away from the academy.”

was buried after a funeral at Northeast Adventist College in northeast India. He is
survived by his wife, Rosaline.

FLASH FLOOD: Video footage showing the devastation at Riverside Adventist Academy shortly after the flash flood. The video was provided by the Southern Asia Division.

Families Said Last Prayers

Langhu said many families gave up
hope of being rescued as they saw the floodwaters rapidly rise.

of the family members I spoke to told me that he gathered his family around in
a circle, offered a prayer, and they gave each other a final hug,” he said. “With
tears in their eyes, they waited for their death. By God's grace, the Indian
military arrived to rescue the residents.”

said the rescue operation started after the waters had already begun to recede.
As is the nature of a flash flood, the waters rose and receded quickly.

footage shot shortly after the flash flood and provided by the Southern Asia Division shows academy buildings
half-submerged in brownish water and several people standing on a roof. Rain is
falling steadily.

school’s buildings, built by Maranatha Volunteers International, an Adventist organization,
remain standing, but little was left of value on the ground floors. Many staff members lost all their belongings,
including Langhu’s

has been suspended amid a cleanup effort by its male staff. Everyone else has
been sent home or provided with alternative housing.

U.S. Teacher Leaves

of the teachers, U.S. citizen Greg Khng,
was making plans to return to the United States. Khng had just joined the
faculty as a computer science and math teacher when the floodwaters canceled
his first day of classes.

not technically safe for me as I'm not used to their water and bottled water is
hard to find,” he told Spectrum Magazine.

But before he could leave, Khng
was working to replace his passport, which was lost in the flooding.

He said, however, that something was
more important than the piece of paper: the lives of the people who had lost

“While this to me was a bad
out-of-country experience, this is a complete disaster for them,” he said.
“Many lost all their belongings, many lost their homes, and I can only imagine
how many lost their lives. I urge people to do what they can to help.”

Contributions to Riverside
Adventist Academy can be sent by check to the
General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church at 12501 Old Columbia
Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904. Mark in the memo line, “Adventist Child India
for the ‘Mack Trust Fund.’” Credit card donations can be made by calling +1
(301) 680-6228.

Contact Adventist Review news editor Andrew McChesney at [email protected].
Twitter: @ARMcChesney