New Delhi: Kerala continued to reel under unprecedented floods on Saturday, with the death toll in the state climbing to 357.
Rescue and relief efforts continued on a war footing as thousands of people stranded in isolated buildings and rooftops were rescued on Saturday, even as rains and fresh landslides were reported in some places.
A large number of people, including senior citizens and children, were airlifted from isolated buildings, while many others were evacuated in army boats, large fishing vessels and makeshift yachts, official sources said.
Packed house boats and rafts moving through inundated roads could be seen in all the flood-hit regions of the state. However, people in worst-hit places such as Pathanamthitta and Chengannur said hundreds were yet to be evacuated.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the toll in the floods had gone up to 357 after 33 more deaths were reported on Saturday. He added that 58,506 people were rescued the same day.
A bed-ridden patient being rescued from a flood-affected region after heavy rainfall in Kochi on Saturday. (PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who conducted an aerial survey of Kerala, announced a relief of Rs 500 crore even as states such as Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan and Arunachal Pradesh among others came forward to lend a helping hand to Kerala, which is facing its worst floods in over a century.
Expressing gratitude, Vijayan said the Centre had been “helpful” and the state and Union governments had to work together to manage such situations like they did during Cyclone Ockhi.
He added that Modi, home minister Rajnath Singh and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman were being given constant updates about the conditions in the flood-hit state and they understood the gravity of the situation. “We have incurred a loss of Rs 19,512 crore and sought Rs 2,000 crore. The Centre has promised Rs 600 crore so far,” he said.
However, politics over the tragedy continued as Leader of Opposition Chennithala criticised the state for “failing in the endeavour” to rescue people. “I have been flooded with calls from the affected persons. Even now, thousands of people are stranded. The chief minister dismissed with contempt when I said this week that rescue and relief should be handed over to the army. I do not want to blame anyone but it has been proved beyond doubt that the state government has failed,” he said.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi also asked the Prime Minister to not just release extra financial assistance for the state but also give the floods the status of a ‘national calamity’.
To further aid rescue and relief efforts and help those stranded in the floods, the government announced that all mobile operators had offered free SMS and data services in Kerala.
Union minister Suresh Prabhu said Alliance Air flights would be made operational for flood-hit Kerala in an effort to restore connectivity, even as he asked airlines to lower flight fares to and from the state. The Kochi air strip will also be opened for commercial flights, it was announced.
In the highest-ever deployment of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) in a single state since its raising, the force sent a total of 55 teams to relocate marooned people. Fifteen teams are operational in Thrissur, 13 in Pathanamthitta, 11 in Alappuzha, five in Ernakulum, four in Idukki, three in Mallapuram and two each in Wayanad and Kozhikode. On Saturday, two more teams were airlifted from Pune airport and one was ready for airlifting.
An NDRF team rescues people from a house in Kerala's Chengannur on Saturday.
A PIB press release said 67 helicopters, 24 aircraft, 548 motorboats and thousands of rescue personnel from Indian Navy, Army, Air Force, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Coast Guard, other CAPFs, have been pressed into service to rescue and evacuate people from submerged areas to relief camps and for distribution of relief materials. More than 6,900 life jackets, 3,000 life buoys, 167 inflatable tower lights, 2,100 raincoats, 1,300 gumboots and 153 chain saws have been provided as per the request of the state government.
Meanwhile, in much-needed respite for the rain-battered state, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said the intensity of rainfall would reduce in the next two to three days. Kerala is not expected to receive heavy rainfall from August 20, IMD additional director general said on Saturday.
The Met department withdrew the red alert in eight districts and now it is applicable only in Ernakulam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta where heavy rainfall is predicted.
(With inputs from PTI)