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324 Dead in Flood-Ravaged Kerala, Over 3 Lakh Displaced, More Than 80,000 Rescued in One Day

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reached Thiruvananthapuram to review the situation. Several states have also come forward to offer financial assistance to Kerala

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Updated:August 17, 2018, 11:56 PM IST
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324 Dead in Flood-Ravaged Kerala, Over 3 Lakh Displaced, More Than 80,000 Rescued in One Day
Rescue workers search for the bodies of missing persons after a landslide, triggered by heavy rains and floods, at Nenmara in Palakkad on Friday. (PTI Photo)
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Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala's worst monsoon in a century has killed 324 people so far, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Friday, issuing a fresh alert for the rain-battered state whose 12 districts are on red alert. Rains, however, subsided a little allowing various agencies to rescue more than 80,000 persons during the day.

Vijayan told the media in the night that the situation arising out of unprecedented floods and subsequent havoc caused by turgid rivers and gushing waters in Kerala continues to be "grave". He said that since August 8 - when the rains began pounding the southern state - as many as 3,14,391 persons have been rendered homeless and are sheltered in 2,094 relief camps across the state.

"The worst affected districts include Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur," Vijayan said after a review meeting with state officials.

Hundreds of defence personnel from all three military branches, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams, helped by more than 20 helicopters, mounted search and rescue operations. Fishermen along with their motorboats too joined the humanitarian efforts.

More helicopters were pressed into service on Friday to fly sorties for rescue and relief.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman sanctioned the extra choppers, as people marooned in Chengannur and Chalakudy could only be airlifted to safety.

Waters from the Periyar river and its tributaries kept many towns in Ernakulam and Thrissur districts submerged. The worst affected include Paravur, Kalady, Chalakudy, Perumbavoor and Muvatupuzha.

"We have no food. There are 150 persons waiting to be rescued," rued a group of people who sent a video clip to TV channels from Chalakudy.

Thousands of people are still perched on high-rise buildings waiting to be rescued and taken to relief camps. Over 50,000 people are lodged in the Ernakulam and Thrissur camps alone.

Intensity of rains, however, decreased in several districts since Friday morning, leading to decrease in water level in three big dams in Idukki district.

The red alert in Kasargode and Thiruvananthapuram districts was withdrawn on Friday though the warning continued in other 12 districts in Kerala.

"On Saturday, 25 big Army boats will be deployed for evacuation in Kalady, Chengannur and Thiruvalla. More helicopters will be used for rescue and relief. We are confident that by Saturday, we will be able to rescue all those awaiting help," the Chief Minister said.

But Chengannur’s MLA Saji Cheriyan sounded an alarm saying thousands of people could die if people are not evacuated urgently, if not tonight. He also claimed that 50 people in his constituency are already lying dead. The claims could not be verified independently.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reached Thiruvananthapuram to review the situation. He will conduct an aerial survey on Saturday and is expected to announce some financial assistance to aid the relief efforts in the state.

Several states have also come forward to offer financial assistance to Kerala. Punjab, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh have all offered Rs 10 crore to aid rescue efforts while Telangana has offered Rs 25 crore. Odisha had earlier offered Rs 5 crore aid.

On Friday morning, Modi discussed the flood situation with Vijayan over phone. Vijayan pointed out that 40,000 policemen, 3,200 firefighters, 18 teams of the Army, 28 of Coast Guard, 39 of NDRF and 46 of Navy were engaged in rescue operations.

"The Centre has allowed the use of the Cochin naval airbase for commercial operations of small aircraft, as the Cochin International Airport has been closed due to flooding. Punjab, Maharashtra, and Telangana have said they will provide food packets while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has pledged Rs 10 crore and other help," Vijayan said.

Waters in Idukki and Wayanad areas and certain areas of Pathanathitta has receded, he said. "One big problem that rescue teams are facing is that some people are unwilling to move to the relief camps. This is not good for their safety," the Chief Minister added.

Many people, especially in Kuttanadu area, refused to move to the camps, Finance Minister Thomas Issac said. Rising waters though forced them to change their plan.

Idukki's senior revenue official M.P. Vinod said that with lesser rains, water level in various dams in Idukki had come down.

"The biggest problem is disruption in telecommunication facilities... We are unable to communicate freely. All relief camps are functioning well and none has any complaint. In Munnar, I am given to understand that the Army is restoring damaged roads. Another huge problem is spread of fake news, which has to be tackled," Vinod said.

Helicopters loaded with food packets took off from the state capital and dropped these in central districts.

Authorities in worst-affected districts took help of big lorries to navigate flooded roads to reach those marooned in small pockets.

Amid the grim scenario in the state, there was good news: A pregnant woman Sajitha Jabeel airlifted on Friday morning by a Navy rescue team from a waterlogged place near Aluva delivered a baby boy at the Kochi Naval Base hospital soon after she was admitted.

Meanwhile, authorities in Ernakulam faced problems as a camp set up at UC College at Aluva was overcrowded with over 8,000 people. Aluva legislator Anwar Sadat said shortage of fuel was hampering rescue as only boats were being pressed into service.

"Things are very bad. Aluva is completely marooned. People have no food or water. Our only solace is the numerous fishermen who are rescuing us.”

"But now even their families are asking them to return. More defence personnel are required to speed up the rescue and relief," Sadat said while pleading for help.

The central district of Pathanamthitta is also facing destruction as overflowing Pamba river has inundated several towns. Ranni, Kozhenchery continue to be completely submerged.

Hundreds of fishermen from coastal villages of Thiruvananthapuram arrived at Pathanamthitta and began rescue even as helicopters too began to airlift affected persons to safer places. On Friday, Achenkovil river overflowed into Pandalam town. A boat overturned while carrying out the rescue work, but luckily all on board were saved.

The MeT office forecast lesser rains in Kerala till Saturday, which should bring some relief to the embattled authorities.

Major national and state highways, as well as rail traffic, continued to be disrupted in various parts of the state though more government buses were operated from various depots on Friday.

Railway services between Ernakulam and Thrissur remained suspended even as long- distance trains were diverted via Nagercoil route. Long queues were witnessed in front of petrol stations across the state following reports of shortage of automobile fuel due to floods.

Kerala is facing the heaviest rains and consequent floods and destruction since 1924, which the state estimates has caused a loss of Rs 10,000 crore.
| Edited by: Sanchari Chatterjee
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