At least 22,000 people were rescued by state rescuers and fishermen Sunday, the fifth day of the great deluge in Kerala that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has described as the worst in a century.
Thirteen new deaths were reported Sunday, taking the official toll in the rain, floods and landslides since August 8 to 207. Thirty-nine people are reported missing.
As the rain kept away from most parts of the state Sunday, the India Meteorological Department said in New Delhi that rainfall had decreased over the past two days, and that over the next four days, it was expecting “heavy rainfall” only in Kozhikode, Kannur and Idduki districts. The discharge from the Idukki, Idamalayar, Peringalkuthu and Sabarigir dams have been reduced, and the state government Sunday withdrew the red alert for the districts of Ernakulam and Idukki.
Nearly 9 lakh people are now lodged in camps, and as the rescue mission wound down to its final stages, the government began to shift focus to ensuring relief to affected persons, and to the rebuilding of civic infrastructure damaged by the floods.
On Sunday, rescue operations were mainly focussed on the Chengannur and Kuttanad regions of Alappuzha and Paravur region of Ernakulam, where progress had been hampered by remoteness and strong currents in the overflowing rivers. But as water receded along major roads, relief materials have flowed steadily into affected areas across the state. Various religious and social organisations and clubs have joined hands with government agencies in rushing water and food to flood-hit people.
After a review meeting, the chief minister said rescue efforts have entered the final stage. “The focus of the state government will be to bring life back to normalcy even as rescuing the people stranded in remote areas continues. Rehabilitation of the affected will be taken up with the cooperation of the local people. Apart from ensuring facilities at relief camps, those who are still staying in their homes, will be given provisions,” he said.
With fears of disease mounting as the water recedes, Vijayan said steps would be taken to prevent the outbreak of epidemics. Sanitation works would be intensified and chlorination of drinking water sources would be done under the supervision of health inspectors, he said.
In Aluva, a town on the banks of the Periyar in Ernakulam district that went almost entirely under, the retreat of the floodwaters revealed the extent of the damage. Under bright skies, shops and homes were seen covered in a thick layer of foul-smelling slush, and compound walls, gates, and shutters lay flattened in many places. Cars, motorbikes and scooters stood immobile in the muck, and ATMs of banks like ICICI Bank and State Bank of India looked damaged beyond repair. On a weekend when Onam sales might have been expected to soar, shopkeepers were seen cleaning their premises with brooms, and pondering their losses.
“The furniture has been completely ruined. We had kept the stocks on top, but some of fell in the water and was spoilt,” said the owner of a retail shop selling cellphones.
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On the main bridge over the Periyar, dozens stood staring at the river, which carried along everything from giant wooden logs to tyres. On either bank, collapsed trees lay half-submerged in the water.
Sukumaran Nair, who works with Cochin Refineries and had escaped to his sister’s home five kilometres away as his home was inundated, said, “I can’t even put a figure to the extent of damage I am facing. Everyone in my neighbourhood will have losses upwards of Rs 2 lakh. TVs, fridges, washing machines, furniture, everything is ruined.
“Why did the government wait for the water level in the dams to rise so high? When they knew it was going to rain a lot, they should have released water at regular intervals. They opened the dams at once, and the water came gushing in,” he said.
Beeran, in his 60s, said, “It will take several days for us to clean the slush. It’s horrible, it’s not possible to live here.” He is staying with relatives, and had come to Aluva to check the situation in his daughter’s home in the city. He and his wife had left after water came up to their waist. “I have a clothing business. There was a lot of material at home. My losses could easily be Rs 10 lakh,” he said.