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Military scales down Kerala flood rescue operations, state braces for reconstruction

People have begun leaving the relief camps over the past couple days, heading to their homes to check on damage and begin the long process of cleaning up.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2018 16:37 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Kochi
kerala floods 2018,kerala flood situation,kerala floods affected areas
Volunteers rescue people from a submerged residential area at Alappuzha district on August 20.(Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

The armed forces started scaling down rescue operations on Tuesday in Kerala, where floods killed more than 370 people and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes, as the rain abated and the waters receded in several areas of the state.

The Centre has declared the devastating floods in Kerala a “calamity of severe nature” as the state braced for the gigantic task of reconstruction of destroyed infrastructure and rehabilitation lakhs of people rendered homeless.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said on Tuesday 373 people have lost their lives and 32 others went missing in Kerala since May 30 following monsoons, which hit all the 14 districts of the southern state.

More than 54.11 lakh people in Kerala were affected in the massive floods of which 12.47 lakh have taken shelter in 5,645 relief camps since May 30, it said.

Intense rains, which began August 8 in Kerala, had decreased substantially by Monday and meteorologists are expecting light-to-moderate rains in the coming days.

While water and electricity have been returned to parts of flood-stricken Kerala, the state’s utilities were working to restore service to vast areas that still had no service, news agency PTI reported.

Reclaiming lives

People have begun leaving the relief camps over the past couple days, heading to their homes to check on damage and begin the long process of cleaning up.

Just outside of Kochi, thousands of people have been streaming over the past two days from the grounds of Union Christian College, one of more than 3,000 relief camps created amid the havoc. A week ago, volunteers at the camp estimated 10,000 people were jammed into the schools’ buildings. Today, there are perhaps 1,500.

A woman cleans the mud from the entrance of her house following floods in Paravur in Kerala on August 21. (REUTERS)

Abdullah Aliyar has been living in the camp with four of his relatives. On Monday, he returned briefly to his home, which is a few miles (kilometres away). He was dismayed by what he found. “There was sludge and muck nearly up to my knee.”

But for now, the family is remaining at the college. There’s no drinking water at home, and no electricity. He doesn’t know when they’ll be able to return.

In Kozhikode, a group of policemen have come together and prepared 1,000 kits of essential items like sugar, pulses, rice etc to be distributed to the neediest who return home from camps.

“Over 90% people have gone back from camps in the district to their homes. There are many people who are in a very bad state and so it was decided to distribute kits to them as the festivals are just around the corner even though there may be no celebrations,” a police official said.

At Chengannur, one of the worst-hit towns, more than 60 centimetres (two feet) of water still blocked many roads as more rain fell Tuesday. Army teams said several thousand people in the town remained in homes inundated by 10 days of torrential downpours that have battered the state.

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.

“People have lost all or most of their belongings in the last few days,” the officer told AFP.

People who have left their flood effected homes take refuge in a relief camp set up at a college on the outskirts of Kochin in Kerala on August 21. (AP Photo)

Cochin airport to reopen

The Cochin international airport, one of the three in Kerala and the busiest, will open on August 26, after 12 days of closure. The airport was first closed on August 9, for a few hours, and then on August 15.

An official said the Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) has launched rebuilding “on a war-footing” of the damaged infrastructure, including 2.5km long airport wall that collapsed after water from the swollen Periyar river and its tributaries, which received an unprecedented amount of water released by major dams, entered the complex.

“Our initial assessment is that we have suffered an estimated loss of Rs 220 crore in the floods,” the official said.

INS Garuda, the naval air station in Kochi, commenced operations of civil aircraft from Monday.

‘New Kerala has to be built’

Millions of dollars in donations have poured into the state from the rest of India and abroad since the extent of the devastation became known. Supreme Court judges have donated Rs 25,000 each while the British-based Sikh group Khalsa Aid International has set up its own relief camp in Kochi, Kerala’s main city, to provide 3,000 meals a day.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Tuesday “a new Kerala” needed to be built following the widespread destruction.

“Funds are the prime requisite for this. This will be raised by us through various sources besides getting it from the Centre and other agencies,” he said.

People in the flood-affected Manjali at North Paravoor in Kochi on August 20. (PTI Photo)

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to hundreds of thousands of Keralites, has informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi that it would be providing $100 million for Kerala, Vijayan told the media.

Vijayan said they would ask the Centre to allow Kerala to increase the market borrowings from 3% of the state’s total revenue to 4.5%, which could help raise an additional Rs 10,000 crore.

“We have decided to approach agencies like NABARD whose mandate includes providing for infrastructure and drinking water. We will demand a special package for the state,” said Vijayan.

Till Monday, the total contributions received to the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund was Rs 210 crore while another Rs 160 crore has been pledged.

A special session of the Kerala assembly has been called from August 30 to discuss the huge destruction caused by the worst flooding in nearly a century and to chart the future course of action.

Subdued Onam, Bakrid

Many families and organisations have decided against celebrating Onam, considered the state’s harvest festival, on August 25 and the Muslim festival of Bakrid on Wednesday.

The state government has also cancelled Onam celebrations. The Kerala Tourism’s decision to organise Champions Boat League on the lines of Indian Premier League (IPL) from this year starting with Nehru Trophy boat race also took a beating due to the flooding.

Pulikali (Tiger Dance), among the folk art forms of Kerala, which is held in Thrissur with artisans donning tiger masks and sporting the painted stripes of the big cat and dancing to the rhythm of traditional percussion instruments on August 28 is also likely to be cancelled.

Ammini, a 55-year-old in a relief camp, said she and her family had to rush out with only the clothes they wore.s

“Everything is lost. We do not have anything left. There is nothing to look forward to. My son is bedridden .. I do not know where to go from the camp with my son, daughter-in-law and their child as there is no home left,” she said.

“We do not know how to take our life forward. Onam is not now in our minds...,” she said unable to hold back tears.

First Published: Aug 21, 2018 16:34 IST