KOCHI • India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday announced immediate financial assistance of 5 billion rupees (S$98.3 million) for the flood-ravaged southern state of Kerala, as pressure intensified to save thousands still trapped by devastating floods that have killed more than 300.
The financial relief is in addition to the US$15 million (S$20.6 million) announced by the central government a few days ago.
Mr Modi, who was taken by helicopter over inundated farmland and villages, promised more helicopters, boats and other equipment needed to expand the rescue operation in the still unfolding emergency.
The authorities have warned of more torrential rain and strong winds over the weekend, as hundreds of troops and local fishermen staged desperate rescue attempts in helicopters and boats across the southern state.
Kerala, popular among international tourists for its tropical hills and beaches, has been battered by record monsoon rainfall this year.
The state is "facing the worst floods in 100 years", Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Twitter, adding that at least 324 lives have been lost so far.
An adviser to Mr Vijayan put the initial loss estimate at US$4 billion.
People all over the state of 33 million have made panicked appeals on social media for help, saying they cannot make contact with rescue services as power and communication lines are down.
"This is my second phone and to save power I have been turning data on and off intermittently," said Mr James Joseph Moolakkaat, owner of an agricultural business who lives in a 10-storey building across the south-western state's Periyar river.
"If this goes out, I will have some charge left in my laptop and then it will be incommunicado."
Other distressed messages were shared online from people trapped inside temples and hospitals as well as their homes.
More than 30 military helicopters and 320 boats are attempting rescue missions across Kerala after some areas were engulfed by overflowing rivers, with residents seen swimming and wading through chest-high waters past partially submerged houses.
A heavily pregnant woman stranded by floods gave birth to a healthy baby boy just after being airlifted to safety, an Indian Navy spokesman said yesterday.
Another woman refused to leave her flooded house without her 25 dogs, turning away volunteers and rescue officials because they said they could not evacuate her dogs.
An animal welfare group later reached her and put her up, along with her husband and dogs, at a special shelter as the relief camps set up for the disaster refused animals, said a rescuer.
The authorities said thousands of people have been taken to safety so far but 6,000 more are still waiting for rescue.
With hundreds of thousands of people converging in halls and auditoriums of schools, temples, churches and mosques with little or no toilet facilities, people from less affected areas moved in to help those badly in need.
But some people in the relief camps were finding it difficult to access food and water. Videos on social media showed groups of people breaking open shops to take food.
Chief Minister Vijayan has estimated that more than two million people have been forced to move into relief camps since the monsoon season brought torrential rains three months ago.
Helicopters have also been dropping emergency food and water supplies, while special trains carrying drinking water have been sent to Kerala. According to India's weather bureau, since the beginning of June more than 321cm of rain has fallen on the hilly central district of Idukki, which is now virtually cut off from the rest of the state.
The Home Ministry announced separately that 868 people have been reported dead in seven Indian states, including Kerala, since the start of the monsoon in June.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BERNAMA, REUTERS