Kerala floods

Kerala floods: Residents return to damaged homes

Amateur video shows a puppy being rescued from rising waters in Kerala following the worst floods to hit the region in a century.
Ms Renuka Gopalkrishnan in front of her flood-hit house in Chengannur yesterday.
Ms Renuka Gopalkrishnan in front of her flood-hit house in Chengannur yesterday.ST PHOTO: NIRMALA GANAPATHY

Many have lost everything and houses need repairing; officials fear diseases will surface

Twenty-four-year-old Renuka Gopalkrishnan waded through knee-deep water yesterday to try and reach her single-storey house in Chengannur, one of the areas worst affected by flooding in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

But she gave up as the water level remained high and she was afraid of encountering snakes.

Together with her mother and pregnant sister, she left her house last Wednesday before it was completely submerged by floods. They walked to a relief camp over a kilometre away.

"We don't know how we were able to escape this flood. And now we don't know how we will survive this. My documents, certificates and everything were inside the house. We just escaped with what we were wearing," said Ms Gopalkrishnan with tears in her eyes.

"We have nothing."

Another resident, Mr Dev Sharma, returned home to find most of his family's belongings damaged. "It will take over a week before I can clean this house," he said in exasperation.

Kerala government officials said more than a million people have taken shelter in 3,200 relief camps across the state after heavy monsoon rain flooded 2,600 villages.

Chengannur alone has 250 relief camps. The municipal town in Alappuzha district was cut off for days from the rest of Kerala.

More than half of its 200,000 residents have been displaced and local officials said they would keep the relief camps open as long as there was need for them.

The Indian Armed Forces continued rescue operations yesterday while distributing more food. In many places, cars and motorcycles were still stuck in floodwaters.

In one relief camp at a government school in Chengannur, volunteers gave out everything from petticoats to detergent powder, water and biscuits to a steady stream of people who kept asking for different items.

Many women said they needed undergarments and sanitary napkins, which were in short supply.

"There is a bit of panic among people because they don't know what to do. People are needy and we don't have everything they want," said lawyer S. Divya, who was helping to distribute relief items.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted that the state would ask for recovery assistance worth 26 billion rupees (S$510 million) from the federal government, which has declared the floods a "calamity of severe nature". Officials said this would enable Kerala to receive more aid.

Apart from Chengannur and a few other villages, rescue efforts were winding down with the restoration of road, train and air connectivity.

But local officials said the people of Kerala still face huge challenges.

"We are absolutely desperate. The problems after this are the diseases. They will start. Almost all the houses will need repairs. People have lost everything. Right now, people in the relief homes are grateful to be alive," said Mr Joji Cherien, a village councillor in Chengannur. "They are not yet thinking of tomorrow."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2018, with the headline 'Residents return to damaged homes'. Print Edition | Subscribe