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As flood water recedes, Kerala comes to grips with scale of tragedy

The death toll in Kerala floods since August 8, when torrential showers forced authorities to open dam gates and sent rivers surging, stood at 223, the chief minister said, with six bodies pulled out of the water on Monday.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2018 00:14 IST
Kerala floods,Kerala,Kerala rains
Volunteers rescue people from a submerged residential area in Alappuzha district of Kerala.(Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

Rainfall abated in flood-ravaged Kerala on Monday as the focus turned to the 5,645 relief camps that house more than a million people battling hunger, disease, poor hygiene and a trail of destruction left in the wake of the state’s worst deluge in almost a century.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the week-long operation was winding down but will continue for a few more days, as rescue personnel dove out of helicopters, swam across rivers in spate and deployed thousands of fishing boats to reach marooned people.

The death toll since August 8, when torrential showers forced authorities to open dam gates and sent rivers surging, stood at 223, the chief minister said, with six bodies pulled out of the water on Monday. The toll since monsoon hit the coastal state this year stood at 341, the state revenue department said, with 39 more missing.

“The government committed to bring all trapped to safety. Many snake-bite cases have been reported and we are storing adequate medicines to fight it,” he said.

At the state’s biggest city, Kochi, flight operations resumed partially from the naval base though the main airport remained inundated. Many long-distance train services were expected to be restored from Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi by night. Rains in the catchment areas of the major dams in the worst-hit Idukki district subsided, reducing the outflow of water from both the Mullaperiyar and Idukki dams. By and large, the sky was clear in many places on Monday.

But the overpowering stench that hung in the air in several major settlements was a reminder that the full toll of the deluge, which Vijayan has estimated to be nearly Rs 19,200 crore, will take more time to emerge.

More than 100,000 people in relief camps were below 15 years of age. “The government will provide free plumbing, electric works,” the CM said, adding that sanitation work had begun in 10 town and 40 local bodies.

He also announced special honours for the state’s fishermen, who have been universally lauded for their bravery in rescue operations. The state government said each fishing boat would get 3,000 rupees ($43) for each day of work.

The Centre, which declared the flood “calamity of severe nature”, said it will rush 50,000 tonnes of more food.

“Another 20 MT of medicines will reach Kerala by Monday night. Twenty MT of bleaching powder and one crore Chlorine tablets will be dispatched by Tuesday. Twelve medical teams have also been put on standby. No outbreak of disease has been reported so far,” said a statement released after a review of the flood situation by the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC).

A view of the Lake Palace and its adjacent areas submerged under flood waters, at Alappuzha district. (Raj K Raj/HT Photo)

Power supply remained crippled – Vijayan said more than 2.6 million power connections were snapped -- and communication networks disrupted in many parts of the state. In Aluva town on the outskirts of Kochi, for example, sodden furniture, mattresses and bloodied carcasses filled the streets while dirty black water still flowed above knee-level.

“It is a big concern. We have given directions to local bodies to take up a cleaning drive on a war-footing. Health officials are out on a mass contact programme,” said state health minister P K Shailaja. The Union power ministry said it was providing electricity meters, coils and transformers to restore the network. “The department of telecom has made operational 77,000 towers out of total 85000 towers in the state. Out of 1,407 telephone exchanges, except 13 all are made functional,” said the NCMC statement.

Residents speculated the stench was from rubbish and dead cats, dogs and rats -- or worse. “This smell is of five days without a bath,” said Savita Saha, one of the migrants in a nearby relief camp. “There are long queues at the camp’s few toilets and no bathroom to wash in.”

“There’ll be no electricity in homes. Carpentry, plumbing would be gone. We need hundreds and thousands of electricians, plumbers and carpenters to rush to Kerala. People with technical capabilities are required to put life back into Kerala,” tweeted KJ Alphons, the Union minister for tourism.

In Alappuzha district’s Chengannur, more than 5,000 people were still feared trapped in the interior areas. Police were given special powers to arrest those refusing to leave their submerged houses amid reports that many had stayed put. “We will save all trapped by (Monday) evening. It seems the worst is over,” said Chengannur MLA Saji Cherian.

And as concerns rose about rising airfare to Kerala towns, Union civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu said aviation regulator Director General of Civil Aviation is monitoring airfares for flights connecting to the state but that the move should not be seen by airlines as micro-management.

Airlines have been requested to cap the maximum fare at around Rs 10,000 on longer routes and at around Rs 8,000 on shorter routes.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Aug 20, 2018 23:04 IST