Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 18 (IANS) The death toll due to rains and floods in Kerala has gone up to 357 this monsoon season, as 22 more deaths were reported on Saturday even as around 50,000 people were rescued in different parts of the state, and red alert continued in 11 districts following prediction of more rains.
The India Meteorological Department forecast on Saturday afternoon that widespread rains, with heavy rains at isolated places, is 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 around 50,000 people were rescued in districts like Ernakulam, Chengannur, Pathanamthitta and Thrissur, there are still many more waiting to be rescued.
Barring Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Kasargode, the remaining 11 districts of Kerala continued to be on red alert and can expect more rains.
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 affected areas.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a review meeting in Kochi that the death toll since May 29 had climbed to 357. Over 3.53 lakh affected persons had been lodged in over 2,000 relief camps, he said.
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 affected areas.
The 22 deaths reported during the day were in Ernakulam, Thrissur, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha districts.
Vijayan told the media here the situation is “very serious and grave”.
“The death toll would have been higher, but for the work we did. Things are under control,” said Vijayan, whose government was flayed by Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala for failing to take up rescue and relief work effectively.
Food Minister P. Thilothaman, camping at Chengannur, told the media: “The need of the hour is to provide food packets and drinking water to the people. About 15 small boats of the Navy are expected to join rescue and relief work. But, after dusk, no rescues are possible. Helicopters are also needed for faster evacuation.”
Meanwhile, anger mounted across Kerala as coordination of rescue work went haywire due to the magnitude of the calamity.
“There are several people who are 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 late Saturday evening, 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.
“In the camp at my place, there are 7,000 people and despite passionate pleas this camp has not received any government help at all. Several people have to take medicines for lifestyle diseases, but no medical kits have come. I have spoken to the Chief Minister down to all… All I got is assurances,” said Sateeshan.
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.
“I was receiving daily calls from NDRF officials even from Delhi that rescue will happen very soon, but help came after three days,” said Salimkumar.
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.”
Alappuzha Superintendent of Police A.P. Surendran said: “Things are moving fast on Saturday. Helicopters and more boats have been pressed into service. We are confident we will be able to rescue more stranded people.”
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 have by now 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. At some places the water is very rough and various types of boats are rescuing people,” Suhas .
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.
But 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 trial run on the Kottayam sector took place later in the day, as 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.