On a day that flood-ravaged Kerala reported 33 deaths, taking the death toll since August 8 to 166, Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook an aerial visit of the affected regions and announced an immediate assistance of Rs 500 crore for the state.
While 6.80 lakh people have been relocated to relief camps so far, hundreds still wait in their flooded homes for rescue teams to reach them. On Saturday, at least 58,506 persons were relocated from the worst-hit districts of Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur. However, 38 others are still missing, according to official figures.
Governor P Sathasivam, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Union Minister of State for Tourism K J Alphons accompanied the Prime Minister on the aerial tour. The Rs 500-crore financial assistance announced by the PM is in addition to the Rs 100 crore announced by Home Minister Rajnath Singh during his visit to the state last week.
The Prime Minister also announced an ex-gratia relief of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of each of the dead and Rs 50,000 to those injured in the floods. Modi directed insurance companies to hold special camps for the assessment and timely release of compensation to the affected families. The National Highways Authority of India was directed to repair damaged national highways, and the National Thermal Power Corporation and the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited have been directed to render assistance to the state in restoring power lines.
The PM also announced that villagers whose kutcha houses had been destroyed in the floods would be provided houses under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana-Gramin. At a press conference after the review meeting, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the rescue mission was heading towards the final stage. “What prevails in Kerala is not a situation that is going out of control. Things have improved a lot, including in places such as Chenganur. Except Kuttanad (in Alapuzha), the situation has improved a lot,” he said.
Reacting to Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala’s demand that rescue operations should be handed over to defence forces, Vijayan said forces alone cannot carry out rescue work. “Only those who know the state can effectively do rescue activities,” he said. The Chief Minister said Kerala had incurred a loss of Rs 19,512 crore so far. As many as 375 persons have died since the onset of monsoon on May 19. Agriculture in 40,000 hectares has been destroyed and 20,000 houses have been destroyed so far.
The Chief Minister said the state would require Rs 13,000 crore to repair 83,000 km of damaged roads of. Of this, 16,000 km is part of major road networks. Of the 22 deaths reported on Saturday, six were from a relief camp at Paravur in Ernakulam, where a concrete structure collapsed on people. Three bodies, of two women and a man, were found in a house in Pandanadu, Alappuzha, where rescue operators could reach only on Saturday. At Chenganur, an elderly man died on Friday night, allegedly for want of food. Rescue teams who managed to reach a retreat centre facility at Chalakkudy in Thrissur found three mentally challenged patients dead. With today’s deaths, the toll since August 8 has gone up to 187.
On Saturday, the number of people in relief camps went up to 6.80 lakh from 3.14 lakh on Friday. Despite Central forces and state agencies mobilising their resources and fishermen volunteers joining the unprecedented rescue mission, requests for evacuating stranded people continued to pour in through the day. The Navy, which has deployed 72 rescue teams, saved 3,375 people from various districts while the Coast Guard’s 31 teams have rescued 2,507 people.
As the number of relief camps went up to 3,471, complaints of food and water shortage have been reported from several places. The Navy has set up a community kitchen on the campus of Cochin University. Besides, the state government and voluntary organisations have mobilised essential items for camps.
Congress MLA V D Satheesan, who represents Paravur in Ernakulam, one of the worst affected regions, complained that there were relief camps in his constituency where no government relief had reached. “The government did not send a single bag of rice or a medical kit to the people. There is no health worker to give an injection to chronic patients at the camp,’’ he said, adding that 7,000 persons remain stranded in the region.