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Kerala flood toll 368, over 58,000 rescued, red alert in 3 districts

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Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 18 (IANS): The death toll due to rains and floods in Kerala has gone up to 368, as 33 more deaths were reported on Saturday even as around 58,000 people were rescued in different parts of the state, and red alert is now there in just three districts, down from 11.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, while giving the latest figures, told the media late on Saturday that the flood relief work is going on in full swing and things are slowly coming under control and more helicopters and personnel would be engaged in the rescue and relief operations on Sunday.

The 33 deaths reported during the day took place in Ernakulam, Thrissur, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha districts.

Rejecting a demand from the Congress-led opposition and Kerala BJP to hand over the rescue operations to the Army, he said: “In a rescue operation, the most important thing is that it should be done only by the local authorities who are well-versed with the locality, and the Army and other agencies’ help is sought and a combined operation is done.”

The India Meteorological Department on Saturday afternoon forecast that widespread rains, with heavy rains at isolated places, are likely to continue over Kerala following low pressure area very likely to develop over northwest Bay of Bengal and neighbourhood during the next 24 hours.

While more than 58,000 people were rescued in districts like Ernakulam, Chengannur, Pathanamthitta and Thrissur, there are still many more waiting to be rescued.

Vijayan said that the red alert has now been limited to Ernakulam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta districts only.

The worst affected places include Aluva, Chalakudy, Chengannur, Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta, where massive rescue operations were on as scores of persons were rescued.

Media houses continued to be flooded with requests from friends and relatives of those stranded in the affected areas.

Earlier in the day, Vijayan told Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a review meeting in Kochi that the death toll since May 29 had climbed to 357 and over 3.53 lakh affected persons had been lodged in over 2,000 relief camps.

Modi sanctioned Rs 500 crore to the flood-battered state, apart from Rs 100 crore announced earlier by the Centre on August 12, before returning to Delhi after an aerial survey of the flood-ravaged areas.

Vijayan in the morning told the media that the situation is “very serious and grave”.

Meanwhile, anger mounted across Kerala as coordination of rescue work went haywire due to the magnitude of the calamity.

“There are many people waiting to be rescued in areas like Pandanad (near Chengannur) and I saw two bodies floating in the water. If there is anymore delay in, things will taken a turn for the worse. We are drinking rain water to keep us going…,” said a resident of Pandanad.

On Saturday night, a 150-member National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team started rescue operations in and around affected areas of Chengannur.

Congress legislator V.D. Sateeshan, who was spearheading the rescue operations in Paravur in Ernakulam district, said that he stood before a rescue boat team with folded hands and they obliged and rescued several people.

National award winning actor Salimkumar, after remaining holed up in his house along with 45 others for three days, was finally rescued by a fishing boat on Saturday evening.

Flaying the state for “failing in the endeavour”, Leader of Opposition Chennithala said: “I have been flooded with calls from the affected persons. Even now, thousands of people are stranded. The Chief Minister dismissed with contempt when I said this week that rescue and relief should be handed over to the Army. I do not want to blame anyone but it has been proved beyond doubt that the state government has failed.”

More fishing boats from various places reached the affected areas during the day.

Alappuzha District Collector S. Suhas said since morning 150 boats including house boats have been engaged in rescuing people and “today (Saturday) we evacuated about 75 per cent of people who were waiting to be rescued”.

“Around two lakhs people are now in various camps. This could well be the biggest rescue operation,” Suhas said.

Journalist-turned-CPI-M legislator Veena George on Saturday turned critical “due to the way the government machinery in Pathanamthitta has been working”.

“None has a clue of how many people have been rescued and how many are left to be rescued. There seems to be disconnect in coordination of the operations,” said George.

The situation in Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad and Wayanad inched towards comparative normalcy as rains slowed and water level receded, with many living in crowded relief camps awaiting to return home.

However, a landslide near Nelliyampathy in Palakkad district has left around 1,000 people cut off from the mainland and the Army is working to clear the debris.

At several places in waterlogged areas, banks could not function normally since staff failed to report for the duty due to flooding.

Railway services between Ernakulam and Thrissur remained suspended on Saturday with long-distance trains diverted via the Nagercoil route.

A special train will be back on the Kottayam sector on Sunday, after all services on this route were suspended for the past two days.

Certain blockades on the Thrissur-Palakkad-Aluva highway was cleared for traffic. Army personnel worked hard to clear the roads to Munnar.

Kerala is facing the heaviest rains and consequent widespread floods and destruction since 1924, which the state estimates has caused a loss of over Rs 19,500 crore.

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