Kerala floods give way to stench, uncertainty

ALUVA: The overpowering stench that fills the air in the towns and villages of Kerala is an inescapable reminder that while the filthy flood waters may be subsiding, the full toll of the devastating monsoon deluge will take time to emerge.
In Aluva, on the outskirts of the southern Indian state’s main city Kochi, the rain had barely stopped and abandoned cars, sodden furniture and mattresses filled the streets while dirty black water still flowed above knee-level.
A foul smell greeted arrivals at the town’s Union Christian College, where classrooms and halls have become a relief camp for some 4,000 people.
Residents speculated that the stench was from rubbish and dead cats, dogs and rats — or worse.
“Maybe it’s human,” said one survivor.
More than 400 people have died since heavy rain hit Kerala, triggering deadly landslides and submerging entire villages as rivers burst their banks.
“This smell is of five days without a bath,” said Savita Saha.
There are long queues at the school’s few toilets and no bathroom to wash in.
“Everyone here is wearing the clothes they had when they escaped,” she said, squeezed onto a jute mat with her husband, who works at a cashew factory in Kochi.
In one classroom, Rasitha Sojith, from the nearby town of Kaprassery, sobbed as she told of how she escaped through chest-high waters carrying her two-month-old son.
Sojith said water had burst into her home without warning last Wednesday while her father and sister with her three children were visiting to see the new baby.
“With water rising fast, we only grabbed a few clothes for the baby and went to the first-floor terrace of the neighbour’s house,” she said.
Torrential rain fell for hours as their fear of being trapped mounted, until local fishermen rowed the family to safety the next day.
“Everything is lost. Everything! We don’t even have money to go back to our neighbourhood,” said Sojith.
“I don’t think we will be leaving this camp any time soon.”
An estimated 725,000 people are crammed into similar makeshift camps across Kerala.
Authorities have given a provisional damage toll of $3 billion but the extent of the destruction is likely to prove much greater, some officials and legislators say.
In the Malikampeedika area of Kochi, Mumthaz, who goes by one name, found the smell waiting for her when she returned to her home.
“This muddy rubble and stench is all that is left of our memories,” Mumthaz said, as she dragged out mud-caked mattresses and a sofa set, damaged utensils and even her daughters’ school awards.
As word spread of flood warnings, Mumthaz had taken her two daughters on Thursday to the home of her parents-in-law, in another neighbourhood.
But flood waters soon surged through their house as well and the whole family had to be rescued.
“It was surreal. The water was close to the knees at one point and within a few minutes it was touching five feet, with a current so strong that we saw big cars floating like tin cans,” she said.
With her husband searching for work in Dubai, Mumthaz knows she will struggle to look after her daughters, with the family facing an uncertain future after the nightmare of the floods.
“There is no kitchen, electricity and water here. I don’t know how long it will take before I will be back… (in) my home,” she said. — AFP