Ottawa's Indian community bands together in wake of 'unprecedented' flooding

The community is coming together to help those affected by floods in Kerala, India that have killed hundreds of people — the worst flooding in the state in a century.

Hundreds dead, hundreds of thousands more displaced after floods strike Kerala

From left to right, Kochin Kitchen partners Nelson Abraham, Anil Oorkolil and Biju George. All three have family in flood-stricken Kerala, India and will be holding a fundraiser next weekend to help with relief efforts. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

People in Ottawa's South Asian community are coming together to help those affected by floods in Kerala, India that have killed hundreds of people — the worst flooding in the state in a century.

Heavy rains over the past week have triggered flooding and landslides, and have caused homes and bridges to collapse.

The rains have also severely disrupted air and rail service in Kerala, a popular tourist destination with beautiful beaches.

In addition to the hundreds who've died in the floods, more than 300,000 people have been displaced.

The owners of Kochin Kitchen will be holding a fundraiser next weekend to help with relief efforts in Kerala, India, where all three owners have family. 0:29

'An unprecedented disaster'

Heavy rains began hitting parts of the state again Saturday morning, slowing attempts to deploy rescuers and get relief supplies to isolated areas — many of which have seen no help for days and can only be reached by boat or helicopter.

At Kochin Kitchen in Ottawa, partners in the restaurant watched the destruction on Indian news channels.

"We are from Kerala, and we would like to help our friends and people who are suffering there by the flood," said Biju George, one of the restaurant's co-owners.

"It is an unprecedented disaster."

The restaurant is holding a fundraiser on Aug. 25 and 26, with two seatings at 11:00 a.m. and 1 p.m. where all the proceeds will be donated to relief efforts.

The servers and kitchen staff are also donating their salaries from those two days.

Indian volunteers and rescue personal evacuate local residents in a residential area in the Indian state of Kerala on Aug. 17, 2018. (AFP/Getty Images)

Worry for family and friends experiencing flooding

George said he has friends and family in Kerala, where about 35 million people live, and also owns land and a house there.

He said he's never seen a disaster of such magnitude hit the state before. He said he's spoken with family and friends who've had to abandon their houses for higher ground.

His own house is most likely immersed in water and completely destroyed, he added.

"I'm not worried about that, but I'm worried about the people who are living in the area and who have lost their life. Every minute people are losing their life," he said.

Kochin Kitchen staff are also donating two days' worth of salary to help people experiencing unprecedented flooding in southern India. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Rescue workers have used helicopters and boats to rescue people stranded on rooftops. As of Saturday, 1,500 state-run camps were temporarily housing more than 300,000 people seeking shelter. 

"We are very sad about the situation and we wanted to do something for them," said George. "This is a real human tragedy."

South Asian Fest artistic director Hunsdeep Rangar died in May from a heart attack. His brother Bundeep has stepped in to lead the event this summer. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

'It has hit the community'

People were also thinking of their family and friends in India at the annual South Asian Fest Saturday at Ottawa City Hall.

"There is concern. It has hit the community," said the festival's artistic director, Hunsdeep Rangar, who has family in Kerala. 

"Naturally it hits a nerve here in Ottawa," said Rangar who estimates the Indian community to number roughly 50,000 in the national capital region. 

Rangar said people in the community are talking to each other and reaching out to local community associations about what can be done in terms of fundraising and relief efforts. 

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.