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Worst flooding in a century

Published: 
Monday, August 20, 2018
800,000 displaced, 350 dead in southern India
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An Indian policeman, left, and a volunteer carry essential supplies for stranded people in a flooded area in Chengannur in the southern state of Kerala, India, yesterday. Photo by:PICTURE AP

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 yesterday, as rescuers searched for people stranded in the worst-affected areas.

The downpours that started August 8 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 today.

An estimated 800,000 people have taken shelter in some 4,000 relief camps across Kerala, Kurian said.

Weather officials have predicted more rains across the state through this morning.

In several villages in the suburbs of Chengannur, one of the worst-affected areas, carcasses of dead cattle were seen floating in muddy waters as water began receding. However, vast rice fields continued to be marooned and many vehicles were submerged.

In some villages, floodwaters up to three metres (10 feet) high had entered homes.

Rescuers in a motorboat reached a hamlet where they tried in vain to persuade an 80-year-old woman, Bhavani Yamma, to be taken to a government-run shelter from her partially submerged single-story house.

“I will not come. This is my home and I will die here,” said Yamma, who lives alone.

The team later rescued a 61-year-old kidney ailment patient, Raveendran, who needs dialysis twice a week.

One of the rescuers, Rajagopal, a police constable who uses only one name, said initially “we didn’t anticipate it would be such a big disaster.” But he said that by Wednesday, “we realised it’s really big.”

Officials have called it the worst flooding in Kerala in a century, with rainfall in some areas well over double that of a typical monsoon season.

At least two trains carrying about 1.5 million litres (400,000 gallons) of water moved to the flooded areas from the neighbouring states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra yesterday, Indian railway official Milind Deouskar said, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

After one of the trains arrived, Kurian, the disaster management official, said authorities had largely restored the state’s water supply systems.

“What we need right now is bottled water, which is easy to transport to remote and isolated places, where some people are still stranded,” Kurian said.

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