People evacuated by rescue workers in Paravoor in Ernakulam district, Kerala, on August 19, 2018.(AFP)
People evacuated by rescue workers in Paravoor in Ernakulam district, Kerala, on August 19, 2018.(AFP)

Centre declares floods ‘calamity of severe nature’ as Kerala shifts focus to relief

As rains that caused the Kerala floods subside, rescue operations are moving into full gear in efforts to reach those marooned and trapped by the torrential downpour of the last 12 days.
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram | By Ramesh Babu
UPDATED ON AUG 20, 2018 07:46 PM IST

With rescue operations in their final stages, authorities in Kerala on Monday shifted their focus on tackling the spread of disease and restoring normalcy as waters receded from the worst floods in a century that left more than 200 people dead.

The Central government has declared the situation a ‘calamity of severe nature’.

“Keeping in view the intensity and magnitude of the floods and landslides in Kerala, this is a calamity of a severe nature for all practical purposes,” a home ministry official said in New Delhi. However, the state’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress have been demanding the floods to be declared a national disaster.

The floods were triggered by 10 days of an unusually heavy bout of rains in the state, taking the death toll to 239, and more than 400 since the monsoon started in June.

More than 10 lakh people have been shifted to relief camps in the largest rescue operation in the country’s history, involving the state administration, personnel of the armed and paramilitary forces and volunteers. Dozens of helicopters have been dropping tonnes of food, medicine and water over areas cut off due to damaged roads and bridges. (Follow live updates here)

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the rescue operation has almost been completed and top priority will be given to restoring normalcy in the crippled areas.

The first commercial flight landed at INS Garuda, the Indian Navy air station in Kochi, on Monday after operations at the Cochin international airport was closed for days and train services were restored in many areas. Many long-distance trains were also to start from Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, officials said.

“It is the unity and resolve of the people that helped manage such a disaster. All credits go to them,” said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.

Focus on worst-hit areas

Chengannur in Alappuzha district continued to be the focus of the rescue operation on Monday as several areas remained submerged and last-ditch efforts were being made to locate stranded people. Many are still feared trapped in interior areas and a district official said hectic efforts were on to locate and save them.

“We will save all the trapped (people) by evening. It seems the worst is over,” Chengannur MLA Saji Cherian said.

Police have been given special powers to arrest those who refuse to be still cling on to their half-submerged houses and refuse to be evacuated.

Fear of disease

At least eight bodies were recovered from different areas in the state and health officials have started collecting bloated carcasses of domestic animals, which surfaced after the water receded, in an effort to contain an outbreak of disease.

Health officials fanned out in several areas with strict guidelines to check a possible outbreak since all water bodies were contaminated.

“It is a big concern. We have already given directions to local bodies to take up cleaning drive on a war-footing. Health officials are out on a mass contact programme,” said state health minister PK Shailaja.

Anil Vasudevan, a Kerala health department official, was quoted by news agency Reuters as saying that three people with chickenpox had to be isolated in one of the relief camps in Aluva.

Union health minister JP Nadda said 3,757 medical camps have been set up in Kerala.

“There is a requirement of 90 different medicines and the first instalment has reached. Issued advisory for daily monitoring and surveillance. Quick response medical teams to start work as soon as the water recedes,” he added.

Union minister KJ Alphons said on Monday Kerala needs electricians, plumbers, and carpenters more than food or clothes to put life back on track.

“There will be no electricity in homes. Carpentry, plumbing would be gone. We need hundreds of thousands of electricians, plumbers, carpenters to rush to Kerala,” the minister of state for tourism (independent charge) was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

“We don’t need clothes or food. People with technical capabilities are required to put life back into Kerala,” he said.

More aid pours in

Several state governments have pledged crores of rupees in financial assistance and non-government organisations are collecting items of basic necessities and sending them to the flood-hit state.

Vice president Venkaiah Naidu called a review meeting on the situation in Kerala with deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha Harivansh and other senior officials of the Rajya Sabha and vice president secretariat. Naidu said he will donate a month’s salary for the relief measures in the state.

Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said that judges of the Supreme Court would also contribute to Kerala flood relief fund.

A 9-year-old girl from a town in Tamil Nadu parted with her savings of four years meant for a bicycle for Kerala flood relief. Her gesture moved a premier cycle manufacturer, who has now promised her to gift the cycle of her dreams.

Watch: Boats going door-to-door to rescue flood victims in Kerala


The lack of coordination and adequate manpower at times hit the rescue operations and harried officials admitted that mistakes were bound to happen as the numbers of those affected was large. Winding queues were visible outside relief camps for food.

Chief minister Vijayan said there was no shortage of food in the state as traders had stocked up ahead of Onam, the state’s biggest festival which falls on August 25. The state has cancelled all official celebrations in connection with the Hindu harvest festival.

Fishermen have sailed inland from Kerala’s coast to join the search, as volunteers set up soup kitchens and an international appeal was made for financial help. Vijayan praised the fishermen for joining the rescue mission, announcing they would get Rs 3,000 for each day of their work and that authorities would pay for any damage to their boats.

Read | As rains begin to subside, Kerala worries about diseases from contaminated flood water

Vijayan has pegged the value of losses at roughly Rs 19,200 crore, nearly a fifth of what the state had spent for the entire year in 2017-18. According to state disaster management officials, more than 10,000 kilometres of roads and bridges have been damaged.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday announced a financial package of Rs 500 crore to help Kerala, an offer that his rivals and some in the state’s ruling CPI(M) said was inadequate.

Rainfall in the state during the monsoon season has been more than 40% higher than normal, with torrential rain in the last 10 days forcing authorities to release water from dozens of dangerously full dams, sending surges into rivers that then overflowed their banks.

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