Rescue operations to pick up pace as rain subsides in Kerala

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducting an aerial survey of the flood-affected areas of Kerala last Saturday. View of a flooded area in the north of Kerala's commercial capital, Kochi. More than 300,000 people who have been displaced since inc
View of a flooded area in the north of Kerala’s commercial capital, Kochi. More than 300,000 people who have been displaced since incessant rain began on Aug 8 are seeking shelter in over 1,500 relief centres, and Kerala’s health department said it is preparing to deal with a possible outbreak of water-borne and air-borne diseases in the camps. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducting an aerial survey of the flood-affected areas of Kerala last Saturday. View of a flooded area in the north of Kerala's commercial capital, Kochi. More than 300,000 people who have been displaced since inc
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducting an aerial survey of the flood-affected areas of Kerala last Saturday. PHOTO: EPA

Met Department withdraws red alert in all 14 districts; death toll climbs to 357

Rains subsided in many parts of Kerala yesterday, with rescue efforts expected to pick up pace for those who remain trapped in their houses due to widespread flooding in the southern Indian state.

The India Meteorological Department withdrew a red alert in all 14 districts yesterday as flood waters began to recede from several places, but more rain may still fall in the coming days.

Officials said the death toll in the state since the start of the monsoon on May 29 has reached 357. This includes 33 people who were found dead over the weekend.

Desperate messages have been circulating on social networking sites, messaging apps and television news channels as people shared the last-known location of family members stranded in the flood-affected areas.

Mr Arun Kumar, who lives in Bangalore in Karnataka state, was getting ready to take a flight to Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, to search for his mother, Madam Omana Rajan, with whom he lost touch last Friday.

She lives in the town of Chengannur in Alappuzha district.

"I got an update two days ago that nobody had come for her, my aunt and seven-month-old niece. Their phone battery died and now I am not getting any update," said Mr Kumar, a software engineer.

  • 357 Death toll as of yesterday.

    >300,000 Number of residents displaced.

    >1,500 Number of relief centres set up.

    >30 million Kerala's population.

He said he had been calling several helplines with little luck.

"I am trying to reach Chengannur. I don't know how I will get there. I have to save my mother," he said.

Kerala has been hit by its worst floods in a century, with over 2,600 villages flooded. According to the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority, more than 300,000 people who have been displaced since incessant rains began on Aug 8 are seeking shelter in over 1,500 relief centres across the state.

Mr Anil Vasudevan of Kerala's health department said it is preparing to deal with a possible outbreak of water-borne and air-borne diseases in the camps.

Multiple agencies - from the National Disaster Relief Force, coast guard, army, navy and air force - are carrying out massive rescue operations.

Air Marshal B. Suresh of the Southern Air Command told Indian media that 99 survivors were rescued last Saturday.

"A total of 526 survivors have been winched up, 29 tonnes of relief material air-dropped so far and 47,125kg of food items and medicines distributed," he said.

An Indian Air Force (IAF) officer yesterday saved a toddler from a rooftop in Alappuzha.

In footage released by the IAF and posted on Twitter, the officer, identified as Wing Commander Prasanth of the Garud Special Force, was shown holding the toddler as they were winched up to a helicopter which had earlier rescued the child's mother.

"Smile on the face of mother, priceless," tweeted the IAF.

The southern coastal state, which has a population of more than 30 million people, is often called "God's country" for its natural beauty and scores high on all social indicators from education to health.

But the floods have severely damaged infrastructure, including roads and hundreds of buildings.

The airport at Kochi, the commercial capital of the state, was also submerged in floodwaters.

India's national carrier, Air India, will operate flights from the naval airport in Kochi to Bangalore and Coimbatore, starting today.

Jet Airways, meanwhile, will have additional flights from Thiruvananthapuram for passengers holding confirmed tickets from Kochi.

Due to the widespread damage, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said that rebuilding the state's infrastructure would require at least 20 billion rupees (S$393 million).

On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi carried out an aerial survey of the flooded villages and pledged five billion rupees.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates, where many Keralites work, has also offered assistance to the state, reported Reuters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2018, with the headline 'Rescue operations to pick up pace as rain subsides in Kerala'. Print Edition | Subscribe