India floods death toll climbs, tens of thousands await rescue | News | DW | 19.08.2018
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India floods death toll climbs, tens of thousands await rescue

Authorities in Kerala say 357 people have died in the worst flooding to hit the southwestern Indian state in a century. Thousands have been rescued; those still waiting have expressed their anguish on social media.

Heavy rains have eased in the Indian state of Kerala, forecasters said on Sunday, offering some respite for the estimated tens of thousands of people who remain trapped after the worst floods in a century.

The idyllic tourist hot spot has been tormented by torrential monsoon rains since the end of May, which have triggered landslides and flash floods that have swept away entire villages.

The monsoon is expected to reduce significantly from Monday, which should aid rescue efforts being carried out by the Indian military, the coast guard and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), meteorologists said.

Read more: Climate change and farming: 'Unpredictability is here to stay'

Rescue operation bolstered

Some 40 helicopters have been deployed for the rescue operation, along with hundreds of boats and a number of aircraft and ships to ferry resources.

Authorities have confirmed that 357 people have died since the beginning of the monsoon season — a report in the Economic Times put the death toll at 370.

Rescue teams said they were prioritizing the elderly, infants and the sick for airlift to safer places, while airdropping food and water to those left behind.

Kerala's Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan insisted that there is "no shortage of food" in the state, but that transporting it to the worst-affected areas remained an issue.

Water trains set off for flood zone

The Press Trust of India news agency reported that two trains carrying about 1.5 million liters (400,000 gallons) of water were headed towards Kerala from neighboring states.

The state's main airport in Kochi remains flooded, so an airstrip at the city's naval base is expected to open for commercial flights from Wednesday, to allow the delivery of more aid.

Some 5,000 people remain trapped in Chengannur and nearby villages on the banks of the Pamba River, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram.

A lawmaker in Pathanamthitta district, some 25 kilometers away, said some 10,000 people were stranded there, and were in grave danger unless they were rescued urgently.

Rescuers have struggled to reach many areas because flooded lanes are often too narrow for boats.

Read more: Floods - Challenging our Future

Social media helping those trapped

Panic-stricken people have been making appeals on social media for help, saying they cannot get through to rescue services. Videos posted online showed residents, in some cases, breaking into shops to take food.

Other residents say they are worried that the batteries on their mobile phones are running out.

"There are seven families in this apartment now. We're safe compared to many others, but we're cut off," said James Joseph Moolakkaat, a resident of a 10-storey building next to the Periyar River.

"This is my second phone and to save power I have been turning data on and off intermittently. If this goes out, I will have some charge left in my laptop and then I will be incommunicado."

Some reports put the number of Kerala residents sheltering in temporary camps at more than a million. Authorities are now concerned about possible outbreaks of waterborne and airborne diseases there.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi conducted a brief air inspection tour of the state on Saturday and announced an immediate grant of nearly 5 billion rupees, $75 million (€63 million).

Kerala, which usually receives high rainfall, has seen over 250 percent more rain than normal last week, causing the state authorities to release water from 35 dangerously full dams, sending a surge into its main river.

mm/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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