Thiruvananthapuram: More than a dozen helicopters, hundreds of defence personnel, NDRF teams and ordinary fishermen with their motor boats on Friday launched a massive rescue operation in Kerala as rains subsided but the death toll touched 164 in 10 days.
Six more deaths were reported on Friday. Although the intensity of rains decreased in several districts since Friday morning, waters from the big dams in Idukki district continued to be let out, keeping 13 districts in red alert, except for Kasargode.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the media on Friday that situation continues to be grave. “The only good news is that rains have come down in certain areas of the state and we are planning to rescue all those who are waiting preferably by the end of this day.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the flood situation with Vijayan over the phone earlier in the day and said he would be heading to the state Friday later to take stock of the situation. Since August 8, 164 people have died, while 2.23 lakh people are put up in 1,568 relief camps across the state.
“The worst affected districts include Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur, where 52,856 families have been affected,” Vijayan said after a review meeting. He said 11 more helicopters will join the present fleet of 14 that have already been carrying out rescue and relief operations.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman sanctioned the extra chopperrs, as people marooned in Chengannur and Chalakudy can only be rescued by air. As of Friday, 16 Army, 28 Coast Guard, 39 NDRF and 42 Navy teams were engaged in the rescue operations, while another 14 more National Disaster Response Force teams would reach Kerala during the day, said Vijayan.
Waters in Idukki and Wayanad areas and certain areas of Pathanathitta have receded, he said. “One big problem that the rescue teams are facing is that some people are unwilling to move to relief camps. This is not good for their own safety,” Vijayan added.
Many people, especially in the Kuttanadu area, have refused to move to the camps, Finance Minister Thomas Issac said. Rising waters though forced them to submit to the authorities’ request. Few of the big houseboats were used in areas where there are no narrow waterways.
Waters from the Periyar river and its tributaries kept many towns in Ernakulam and Thrissur submerged. The worst affected include Paravur, Kalady, Chalakudy, Perumbavoor and Muvatupuzha. “We have no food and there are 150 people waiting to be rescued,” said a group of people who send a video clip to the TV channels from Chalakudy.
Thousands of people are still perched on high rise buildings waiting to be rescued and taken to relief camps. Over 50,000 people are lodged in the Ernakulam and Thrissur camps alone. The central district of Pathanamthitta is facing its worst ever calamity as the overflowing Pamba river has inundated several towns. Ranni, Kozhenchery are completely submerged.
Hundreds of experienced fishermen from the coastal villages of the state capital arrived at Pathanamthitta and started rescue operations as the helicopters began airlifting people to safer places. Aluva legislator Anwar Sadat said shortage of fuel was hampering rescues as the only mode of transport to be used is the boat.
“Things are very bad. Aluva is completely marooned. People have no food or water. Our only solace is the numerous fishermen who are rescuing us. “But now even their families are asking them to return. More defence personnel are required, also they are more competent and the process will gain speed,” said Sadat pleading for help.
On Friday, the Achenkovil river started overflowing into Pandalam town. Helicopters loaded with food packets left the state capital and headed to the central districts as the number of displaced people crossed lakhs. The authorities in the worst affected districts have taken over big lorries that can best navigate through the flooded roads to reach people marooned in small pockets. More boats will also be taken from people to aid in the operations, Isaac said.
The Met has forecast less rains in the next 24 hours till Saturday, which should bring some relief. Rescue operations are progressing well in Malappuram, Kozhikode and Wayanad. The latter two districts have put up over 20,000 camps.
Major national and state highways, as well as the rail traffic, continued to be disrupted in various parts of the state. Railway operations between Ernakulam and Thrissur are suspended; the Alappuzha sector is open to Thiruvananthapuram but the Kottayam sector is closed.
Some long distance trains were being diverted via the Nagercoil sector. Kerala is facing the heaviest rains and floods witnessed in the state since 1924 which by now have caused massive destruction with damages to crops and properties estimated to be thousands of crores.