Thiruvananthapuram: The death toll in rain-battered Kerala touched 174 on Friday as a red alert continued in 12 districts, with the authorities continuing rescue operations after rains subsided and evacuated more survivors to relief camps.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had on Friday morning confirmed the death toll to be 164, but the figure was revised to 174 later. He told the media that the situation arising out of unprecedented floods and subsequent havoc caused by turgid rivers and gushing waters in Kerala continues to be “grave”.
Since August 8 when the rains began pounding the southern state, around 2.40 lakh persons have been lodged in 1,568 relief camps across Kerala.
“The worst affected districts include Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur,” Vijayan said after a review meeting with state officials.
Hundreds of defence personnel, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams, helped by more than 20 helicopters, mounted search and rescue operations. Fishermen along with their motorboats too joined the humanitarian efforts. More helicopters were pressed into service on Friday to fly sorties for rescue and relief.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman sanctioned the extra choppers, as people marooned in Chengannur and Chalakudy could only be airlifted to safety. Waters from the Periyar river and its tributaries kept many towns in Ernakulam and Thrissur districts submerged. The worst affected include Paravur, Kalady, Chalakudy, Perumbavoor and Muvatupuzha.
“We have no food. There are 150 persons waiting to be rescued,” rued a group of people who sent a video clip to 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. Intensity of rains, however, decreased in several districts since Friday morning, leading to decrease in water level in three big dams in Idukki district.
The red alert in Kasargode and Thiruvananthapuram districts was withdrawn on Friday through the warning continued in other 12 districts in Kerala.
“The only good news is that intensity of rains has come down in certain areas. We plan to rescue all those awaiting help, preferably by the day’s end,” the Chief Minister said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the flood situation with Vijayan over phone and told about his impending visit to the state in the evening. He will take an aerial survey of the affected areas on Saturday.
As of Friday, 16 teams of the Army, 28 of Coast Guard, 39 of NDRF and 42 of Navy were engaged in rescue operations. Fourteen more National Disaster Response Force teams will reach Kerala during the day, said Vijayan. Waters in Idukki and Wayanad areas and certain areas of Pathanathitta has receded, he said.
“One big problem that rescue teams are facing is that some people are unwilling to move to the relief camps. This is not good for their safety,” the Chief Minister added.
Many people, especially in Kuttanadu area, refused to move to the camps, Finance Minister Thomas Issac said. Rising waters though forced them to change their plan. Idukki’s senior revenue official M.P. Vinod said that with lesser rains, water level in various dams in Idukki had come down.
“The biggest problem is disruption in telecommunication facilities… We are unable to communicate freely. All relief camps are functioning well and none has any complaint. In Munnar, I am given to understand that the Army is restoring damaged roads. Another huge problem is spread of fake news, which has to be tackled,” Vinod said.
Helicopters loaded with food packets took off from the state capital and dropped these in central districts.
Authorities in worst-affected districts took help of big lorries to navigate flooded roads to reach those marooned in small pockets.
Amid the grim scenario in the state, there was good news: a pregnant woman Sajitha Jabeel airlifted on Friday morning by a Navy rescue team from a waterlogged place near Aluva delivered a baby boy at the Kochi Naval Base hospital soon after she was admitted.
Meanwhile, authorities in Ernakulam faced problems as a camp set up at U.C. College at Aluva, was overcrowded with over 8,000 people. Aluva legislator Anwar Sadat said shortage of fuel was hampering rescue as only boats were being pressed into service.
“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 to speed up the rescue and relief,” Sadat said while pleading for help.
The central district of Pathanamthitta is also facing destruction as overflowing Pamba river has inundated several towns. Ranni, Kozhenchery continue to be completely submerged. Hundreds of fishermen from coastal villages of Thiruvananthapuram arrived at Pathanamthitta and began rescue even as helicopters too began to airlift affected persons to safer places.
On Friday, Achenkovil river overflowed into Pandalam town. A boat overturned while carrying out the rescue work, but luckily all on board were saved.
The MeT office forecast lesser rains in Kerala till Saturday, which should bring some relief to the embattled authorities. Rescue operations are progressing well in Malappuram, Kozhikode and Wayanad. In the last two districts, over 20,000 camps have been set up.
Major national and state highways, as well as rail traffic, continued to be disrupted in various parts of the state though more government buses were operated from various depots on Friday. Railway services between Ernakulam and Thrissur remained suspended even as long- distance trains were diverted via Nagercoil route.
Long queues were witnessed in front of petrol stations across the state following reports of shortage of automobile fuel due to floods. Kerala is facing the heaviest rains and consequent floods and destruction since 1924, which the state estimates has caused a loss of Rs 8,000 crore.