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India's flood-hit Kerala faces huge clean-up, fear of disease

  • 20 Aug 2018

The worst floods in a century in the Indian state of Kerala have killed hundreds of people and forced hundreds of thousands into relief camps.

An Indian army soldier airdrops relief material for stranded people at a flooded area in Chengannur in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 19, 2018. ( AP )

Indian health authorities prepared defences against the spread of disease in flood-hit Kerala state on Monday as water receded and a huge clean-up gathered pace after the worst floods in a century killed hundreds of people.

Incessant rain since August 8 in the southern state has swelled rivers and triggered landslides. Dozens of people are missing and nearly a million are sheltering in thousands of relief camps, state officials said.

"The biggest challenges immediately ahead are cleaning of the flood-hit houses, rehabilitation, and prevention of water-borne diseases," said Mahesh P., a village-level officer from Rayamangalam, some 45 kilometres (28 miles) from Kerala's financial capital of Kochi.

Light to moderate rain was expected across Kerala on Monday, bringing some respite to rescue workers, who have been battling rising waters and mudslides to reach tens of thousands of stranded villagers.

TRT World's Reagan Des Vignes reports.

Close to a million displaced

Some 800,000 people have been displaced and over 350 have died in the worst flooding in a century in southern India's Kerala state, officials said Sunday, as rescuers searched for people stranded in the worst-affected areas.

The downpours that started in early August have triggered floods and landslides and caused homes and bridges to collapse across Kerala, a picturesque state known for its quiet tropical backwaters and beautiful beaches.

Thousands of rescuers were continuing efforts to reach out to stranded people and get relief supplies to isolated areas by hundreds of boats and nearly two dozen helicopters, said PH Kurian, a top disaster management official in Kerala. He said weather conditions had improved considerably and expected the nearly 10,000 people still stranded to be rescued by Monday.

Many of the hundreds of thousands displaced are now sheltering in some 4,000 relief camps across Kerala, Kurian said.

TRT World's Craig Vermay reports.

There are fears of people trapped without food, water and electricity with no way of contacting authorities as their cell phones cannot be charged.

TRT World spoke to New Delhi-based journalist Ishan Russell for more.

Expanding rescue operation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was taken by helicopter over inundated farmland and villages, promised more helicopters, boats and other equipment needed to expand the rescue operation in the still unfolding emergency.

An adviser to the state's chief minister put the initial loss estimate at $4 billion.

Modi declared initial assistance of $71 million and promised more later. 

He also assured that the federal government would send desperately needed grains, as storage in the state had been flooded and stocks destroyed.

"More helicopters, boats and other equipment are being sought and Modi promised to provide all of these as fast as possible," Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told journalists. "The air marshal in charge of the air operations said more helicopters are on the way."

TRT World's Staci Bivens reports.

According to a lawmaker in Pathanamthitta district, some 10,000 people were stranded and in grave danger unless they were rescued urgently.

A Reuters witness in Aluva town, nearly 250 km (155 miles) from state capital Thiruvananthapuram, said army helicopters airlifted up to 14 marooned residents, including children and elderly people from an apartment.

With hundreds of thousands of people converging in halls and auditoriums of schools, temples, churches, and mosques with little or no toilet facilities, people from less affected areas moved in to help those badly in need.

But some people in the relief camps were finding it difficult to access food and water.

TRT World’s Arabella Munro reports.

International community provides assistance

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates, where many Keralites work, said he had formed a committee to extend emergency assistance to the flood victims of the state, whose people he said "have always been and are still part of our success story."

Catholic Pope prays for victims

Pope Francis expressed solidarity with the inhabitants Kerala on Sunday. 

The pontiff, after his Angelus prayer, invited the thousands of faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square to join him in prayer for all the victims and people tried by the disaster, asking for concrete support from the international community.

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