Centre declares Kerala deluge severe calamity

Thiruvananthapuram/New Delhi: The Centre declared the devastating floods in Kerala a “calamity of severe nature” as the state braced for the gigantic task of reconstruction of destroyed infrastructure and rehabilitation for lakhs of people rendered homeless.

The death toll in the current spell of monsoon fury that began on 8 August has risen to 223, officials said.

“Keeping in view the intensity and magnitude of the floods and landslides in Kerala, this is a calamity of a severe nature for all practical purposes,” a home ministry official said in New Delhi.

This categorisation will enable the state get greater monetary and other assistance from the Centre.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said 223 people have lost their lives since 8 August. “Over 10.78 lakh displaced people, including 2.12 lakh women and one lakh children below 12 years of age, have been sheltered in 3,200 relief camps.

Yesterday, 602 persons were rescued from various places as the rains receded,” he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.

Vijayan said there has been demands from various quarters to declare the floods as a national calamity.

“Our demand is also the same. But the Centre is pointing out certain technical difficulties to make such an announcement. What we need now is to evaluate the total loss and get an equivalent assistance from the centre. As per preliminary estimates, the state has so far suffered a loss of nearly rs 20,000 crore. The Union government has so far rendered all help to the state. Kerala received Rs 210 crore towards the Chief Minister’s Distress Relief Fund and a promise of Rs 160 crore,” he said.

The government will on 29 August honour fishermen who participated in the rescue operations, he said. An all party meeting will be held here today to take stock of the flood situation.

With flood water level receding in many places, people have started returning to their homes and begun cleaning operations.

The state government has also decided to distribute cleaning kits to them, Vijayan said. K Santosh, director of India Meteorological Department’s Thiruvananthapuram centre said all alerts have been withdrawn and the state experienced only light to moderate rainfall yesterday.

Similar precipitation has been forecast for the next five days. The Army, Navy, and NDRF teams continued their rescue efforts. Lt. Gen. D R Soni, the chief of the Army’s Southern Command, told a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram that rescue operations were still continuing, and drones being used to help reach to people trapped in areas not easily accessible.

He said 1,500 army personnel were engaged in rescue operations and people stranded on rooftops and inaccesible areas were being winched with the help of defence helicopters.

Efforts were now under way to clear the houses of the debris to make them habitable, officials said, underscoring the need for making available disinfectants like bleaching powder in adequate quantities to prevent outbreak of water-borne diseases.

Vijayan earlier said in a Facebook post that Kerala is striving together as one to overcome the “catastrophic” floods with “monumental strength.”

Referring to some messages being circulated on social media denigrating the relief efforts by the government, he said that anyone trying to “pull us down will face serious consequences.”

Aviation regulator DGCA is, meanwhile, monitoring airfares for flights connecting flood-hit Kerala as this is a unique situation of ‘humanitarian crisis,’ Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu said in the national capital.

Amid concerns raised by many, including on social media platforms about steep fluctuations in air ticket prices to and from Kerala, where the main airport at Kochi has been shut till 26 August, Prabhu said the ministry as such cannot interfere with the fares, but it is “doing it” in this time of crisis.

Kerala Water Authority and Kerala State Electricity Board were trying to restore water and power supply in vast areas that are without power and tap water for the last several days.

Commercial flight operations from the naval airport at Kochi commenced yesterday with the first Air India flight from Bengaluru arriving this morning. Small aircraft are being operated from the naval airport.

Relief material, including provisions, water and fuel, have started arriving at the Kochi port from different parts of the country, official sources said.

A team of around 100 doctors and paramedical staff from Maharashtra left for Kerala yesterday to help the flood-affected people.