Focus shifts to rescue as rain abates in Kerala

KOCHI, India: Torrential rain finally let up in India’s flood-hit Kerala state on Sunday, giving some respite for thousands of marooned families, but authorities feared an outbreak of disease among around 725,000 people crammed into relief camps.
Incessant downpours since August 8 have caused the worst floods in a century in the southwestern state, and close to 200 people have perished in the rising waters and landslides.
The India Meteorological Department forecast heavy rainfall in only one or two parts of Kerala
on Sunday and withdrew a red alert in several districts.
Using boats and helicopters, military led rescue efforts to reach people in communities cut off for days, with many trapped on roofs and upper floors, in desperate need of food and clean water.
Rescue teams were focused on the town of Chengannur on the banks of the Pamba river, where
about 5,000 people are feared to be trapped, officials said.
Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the total number of people taking refuge at the 5,645 relief camps had risen to 725,000. Thirteen deaths were reported on Sunday, he added, taking the total number confirmed to nearly 200.
Anil Vasudevan, who handles disaster management at Kerala’s health department, said authorities had isolated three people with chickenpox in one of the relief camps in Aluva town, nearly 250 km from state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
He said the department was preparing to deal with a possible outbreak of water-borne and air-borne diseases in the camps. Kerala, which usually receives high rainfall, has seen more than 250 per cent more rain than normal between August 8 and 15.
State authorities have had to release water from 35 dangerously full dams, sending a surge into the main river.
As the rain abated on Sunday morning, 60-year-old T P Johnny visited his home in Cheranelloor — a suburb of Kochi situated on the banks of the Periyar river — to see when he and his family could return.
“The entire house is covered with mud. It will take days to clean to make it liveable. All our household articles, including the TV and fridge have been destroyed,” he said.