Kerala floods: many thousands await rescue as downpour continues


AUGUST 18, 2018

A truck carries people through floodwaters in Thrissur, Kerala.

KERELA – Thousands of people in the southern Indian state of Kerala are still awaiting rescue from the worst flooding in nearly 100 years, with heavy rain predicted to continue for at least the next two days.

With more than 300,000 people sheltering in relief camps and thousands of others on high ground in areas cut off by floods, supplying food, medicine and clean water is a growing challenge for authorities.

in the past fortnight, according to Kerala’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, although the state emergency control room reports a lower toll of about 200.

Rescuers were still to reach some parts of the state on Saturday, and about 10,000 people were thought to be stranded on rooftops or the upper floors of homes.

Among them were the family of Shrinni, a resident of the central town of Ranni, who fled their home to a relative’s on higher ground but still found themselves in danger. “It’s a four-storey house, but water started pouring in fast until it reached the second floor and stayed that way for two days,” she said.

“My relatives shifted to the top floor with all the stuff they immediately needed. An airlift came, but as my 85-year-old grandmother had never taken a flight in her life and she was afraid to go. So the whole family stayed back. On Friday, rescuers came with motor boats and shifted them to a safe place.”

The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, flew over some of the flooded areas on Saturday and pledged an additional £56m in financial assistance and compensation for the families of the dead. “The nation stands firmly with Kerala in this hour,” he wrote on Twitter.

More than 82,000 rescue operations were mounted on Friday by the Indian military, disaster management teams and volunteers workers including fishermen. Their efforts have been hampered, however, by incessant rain, which limits their work to daylight hours.

Authorities are calling for more food, water and medicines to supply more than 1,500 relief camps that have sprung up around the state. “The camps are very crowded,” said Jayakiran, a volunteer rescue worker in Cochin who had just returned from touring two camps near the city. We are collecting food such as rice but also hygienic materials such as sanitary napkins and nappies, because there is always a fear of diseases breaking out.”

Intense rainy seasons are an annual phenomenon in Kerala, which lies in the path of the south-west monsoon that provides India with 70% of its annual rainfall in a four-month period. When the downpours began earlier this month, state authorities initially assured the situation was under control.

They appear to have been caught by surprise, however, and then overwhelmed by the prolonged intensity of rainfall more than in the week to 15 August and 457% more than average in the worst-hit district of Idduki.

The last road into Chengannurin central Kerala disappeared before the eyes of officials sent to inspect the area on Friday evening, leaving about 50,000 people trapped inside the town.

One resident used social media to broadcast himself trapped neck-deep in water inside the first floor of his home. “It looks like water is rising to the second floor,” he said in the footage, which went viral. “I hope you can see this. Please pray for us.”

The family of Rijo Varghese and six others from their neighbourhood were also trapped inside their two-storey home in the town. “I got a call from them on Friday, saying the water was rising immediately,” he said. “We got afraid, we panicked, we tried calling their neighbours but the whole area was frozen, I couldn’t communicate with any of them.”

Varghese’s family and the others took shelter on the roof of their home until Saturday morning, when fishermen arrived to move them to higher ground inside the town.

The MP for Chengannur broke down on live television during an interview on Friday while begging authorities to help his town. “Please send helicopters here,” Saji Cheriyan said. “Please tell someone, please can you tell Modi. If helicopters are not brought in for rescue operations, we will die. Fifty thousand people will die. I am begging for your mercy, please help us.”

Vijayan said on Saturday that four helicopters, 400 soldiers and 70 boats had been deployed in the area.

The World Bank said in a report earlier this year that south Asian cities were becoming increasingly vulnerable to flooding as a result of changing rainfall patterns and increasing average temperatures. More than 1,000 people across the subcontinent were killed and 41 million affected by severe floods last year, most in the states of Maharashtra.

Courtesy: The Guardian