More than a million people sheltering at flood relief camps in India’s Kerala

Rain continues to pour in the southern state of Kerala and officials say more bodies have been found

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 3:59pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2018, 9:22pm

More than 1 million people have packed relief camps to escape devastating monsoon floods that have killed more than 410 people since May in India’s Kerala state, officials said on Tuesday. At the same time, the military said it is scaling down its rescue operations.

About 50,000 homes have been destroyed, according to one Kerala legislator, and people are flocking to the camps as the scale of the desolation is revealed by receding waters.

A total of 1,028,000 people were now recorded in about 3,200 relief camps across the state, a Kerala government spokesman said.

Six more bodies were found on Monday, he said, taking the death toll to more than 410 since the monsoon started in June.

At Chengannur, one of the worst-hit towns, more than 60cm (two feet) of water still blocked many roads as more rain fell on Tuesday.

Army teams said several thousand people in the town were still in homes inundated by 10 days of torrential downpours.

Rescue teams in Chengannur on Tuesday finally reached the house of retired army officer K.G. Pillai, who said up to 2.4 metres (eight feet) of water had engulfed the house where his family has lived since 1952.

“In the past there has never been more than one foot of floods and people are not used to this,” he said.

Many roads and homes around Pillai’s house were inaccessible.

He said around 26 people had moved into the first floor of the home to take refuge from the floods.

A senior army officer involved in the rescue operation in Chengannur said authorities believed most of the people left in town did not want to be evacuated and were instead seeking food and water.

“We received a distress call late yesterday to rescue a disabled child and will be going in today on boats to check if there are others who need assistance,” he said.

Decreasing rains and floodwaters means the navy can cut back on its rescue teams in Kerala, navy spokesman Captain D.K. Sharma said in a statement on Monday. The navy has rescued nearly 16,000 people in the state.

Dozens of helicopters and even drones have been dropping food, medicine and water to cut-off villages.

Tens of thousands of people in Chengannur and surrounding towns and villages are relying on community kitchens for meals, after water from hilly districts in Kerala’s north poured down into lowland regions.

Thousands of people have been leaving Kerala’s relief camps over the past two days, heading home to check on damage and begin the long process of cleaning up.

“There was sludge and muck nearly up to my knee,” a dismayed Abdullah Aliyar said Tuesday. The 65-year-old, who has been living with his family at a relief camp for more than a week, returned briefly to his nearby home on Monday to find it uninhabitable and without drinking water or electricity.

Shashi Tharoor, a deputy from Kerala and former UN official, estimated that 50,000 houses had been destroyed. He said he would seek possible UN help in relief efforts during a trip to Geneva this week.

Additional reporting by Associated Press