By Robin Gomes
With a lull in the rains and no heavy downpours forecast in the next 5 days, morale has surged in southern India’s Kerala state, boosting the ongoing relief, rescue and cleanup operations. About 22,000 people were reported rescued on Sunday, after monsoon rains finally eased. No red alert was issued for any of Kerala's rain-ravaged 14 districts.
Limping back to life
The Southern Railway has resumed a few train services with speed regulations. The INS Garuda naval base in Kochi opened to commercial flights for the first time in nearly 2 decades. However, the adjacent main Kochi airport that had been shut down on August 15 due to flooded runways is still closed.
The onslaught of rains and floods since August 8 has brought the state to its knees, in what is regarded as the worst floods since 1924. The disaster has claimed at least 230, with 13 more deaths reported on Sunday. The number is likely to rise as waters recede and dead bodies are found.
State chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said some 725,000 people have taken refuge in 5,645 relief camps across the state. More than 360 people have been killed since the start of the monsoon season in the state June.
Hindustan Times reported Vijayan as saying that 90% of the rescue is over. But as rescuers, volunteers, relief supplies and financial donations keep pouring in from various states, organizations and individuals, including from abroad, Vijayan admitted that the path to recovery and rehabilitation can be long and arduous.
Anil Vasudevan, who handles disaster management at the Kerala health department, told Reuters that 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 relief camps.
Kerala’s health Minister KK Shailaja said that their priority at the moment is health and sanitation. The United Nations’ World Health Organisation (WHO) has sent a 13-member team to Kerala, while India's health ministry has said it has set up medical centres in many of the relief camps.
Rainfall in the state during the June-September monsoon season has been more than 40 percent higher than normal, with torrential rains since August 8 forcing authorities to release water from dozens of dangerously full dams, sending surges into rivers that then overflowed their banks.
Essential goods and services
With waters receding, the National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) has urged that priority be given to providing emergency supplies of food, water and medicines, and restoring essential services such as power, fuel, telecom and transport links.
Vijayan said there was no shortage of food in the state to feed the flood-affected people, but the biggest challenge was transporting food and relief material, as long stretches of several important highways remin submerged.
In a review meeting on Sunday evening, the chief minister instructed the officials to ensure that the relief also reaches thousands of interstate migrant workers in the affected areas, many of who lack shelter and food.
According to the union minister for tourism, KJ Alphons, who is from Kerala, what the state urgently needs now is technical assistance to re-start life. “There'll be no electricity in homes. Carpentry, plumbing would be gone. We need hundreds of thousands of electricians, plumbers, carpenters… We don't need clothes/food. People with technical capabilities are required to put life back into Kerala,” ANI quoted Alphons as saying.