Rescue efforts step up as rains begin to ease in Kerala
MUMBAI (BBC): Rescue efforts are being stepped up in the flood-hit Indian state of Kerala, where monsoon rains have eased for now.
The India Meteorological Department has removed a red weather alert from all districts, though some areas are still under water.
India’s air force and navy helicopters are airlifting stranded people from rooftops, and dropping food supplies to those they cannot yet reach.
More than 350 people have died in the floods. Thousands remain marooned.
Officials said rescue teams are focused on the riverside town of Chengannur, where as many as 5,000 are feared to be trapped.
A local politician, Saji Cherian, broke down in tears on TV on Friday describing the crisis there. “Please give us a helicopter. I am begging you. Please help me, people in my place will die. Please help us.
There is no other solution, people have to be airlifted,” he said.
Hundreds of government boats have been deployed across Kerala to aid the rescue.
The BBC’s Yogita Limaye, in Kerala, says the coastal state’s many fishermen are providing valuable support, using their own boats to help the relief mission. As of Saturday, mobile operators are offering free data and text messages for people in Kerala to help those in distress.
Entire villages have been lost to landslides, and soldiers are now clearing the debris and building temporary bridges to help restore transport links.
Authorities are concerned that relief camps which are sheltering those left homeless could be hit by an outbreak of water-borne diseases, or other contagious sickness.
Three people with chickenpox have reportedly been isolated at a camp in the town of Aluva.
More than 200,000 families have taken refuge in the camps, an official at the Kerala State Disaster Management office said.
The state’s chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted on Friday that 314,391 people were being housed in 2094 camps across Kerala.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi surveyed the state from the air on Saturday, and has promised a relief fund of 5bn Indian rupees (£55m; $71m).