800,000 displaced in flooding in southern Indian state

Some 800,000 people have been displaced and over 350 have died in the worst flooding in a century in southern India's Kerala state.

Canadians with ties to the region fear for friends and relatives left stranded by the disaster

A man holds a child as it rains after they were rescued from a flooded area in Chengannur in the southern state of Kerala, India, on Sunday, where about 800,000 people have been displaced and more than 350 have died in the worst flooding in a century. (Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press)

Some 800,000 people have been displaced and over 350 have died in the worst flooding in a century in southern India's Kerala state, officials said Sunday, as rescuers searched for people stranded in the worst-affected areas.

The downpours that started Aug. 8 have triggered floods and landslides and caused homes and bridges to collapse across Kerala, a picturesque state known for its quiet tropical backwaters and beautiful beaches.

Thousands of rescuers were continuing efforts to reach out to stranded people and get relief supplies to isolated areas by hundreds of boats and nearly two dozen helicopters, said P.H. Kurian, a top disaster management official in Kerala.

A stranded woman gestures toward her house as she asks for more essential supplies from a volunteer in a flooded area in Chengannur on Sunday. (Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press)

He said weather conditions had improved considerably and expected the nearly 10,000 people still stranded to be rescued by Monday.

An estimated 800,000 people have taken shelter in some 4,000 relief camps across Kerala, Kurian said.

Weather officials have predicted more rains across the state through Monday morning.

Volunteers push a boat after they rescued a group of stranded people in the area. (Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press)

In several villages in the suburbs of Chengannur, one of the worst-affected areas, carcasses of dead cattle were seen floating in muddy waters as water began receding. However, vast rice fields continued to be marooned and many vehicles were submerged.

In some villages, floodwaters up to three metres high had entered homes.

'I will die here,' elderly woman says

Rescuers in a motorboat reached a hamlet where they tried in vain to persuade an 80-year-old woman, Bhavani Yamma, to be taken to a government-run shelter from her partially submerged single-storey house.

"I will not come. This is my home and I will die here," said Yamma, who lives alone.

The team later rescued a 61-year-old kidney ailment patient, Raveendran, who needs dialysis twice a week.

One of the rescuers, Rajagopal, a police constable who uses only one name, said initially "we didn't anticipate it would be such a big disaster." But he said that by Wednesday, "we realized it's really big."

Officials have called it the worst flooding in Kerala in a century, with rainfall in some areas well over double that of a typical monsoon season.

Flooding has ravaged southern Kerala state for the past 10 days. (Google Earth)

At least two trains carrying about 1.5 million litres of water moved to the flooded areas from the neighbouring states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra on Sunday, Indian railway official Milind Deouskar said, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

After one of the trains arrived, Kurian, the disaster management official, said authorities had largely restored the state's water supply systems. "What we need right now is bottled water, which is easy to transport to remote and isolated places, where some people are still stranded," Kurian said.

Officials estimate that more than 10,000 kilometres of roads have been damaged. One of the state's major airports, in the city of Kochi, was closed this past Tuesday due to the flooding. It is scheduled to remain closed until Aug. 26.

An aerial view shows partially submerged buildings in a flooded part of the state on Sunday. (Sivaram V/Reuters)

The Indian government said a naval airbase in Kochi would be opened for commercial flights starting Monday morning.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspected the flooded landscape from a helicopter on Saturday and met with the state's top officials, promising more than $70 million US in aid. While the central government has dispatched multiple military units to Kerala, state officials are pleading for additional help.

Canadian connections

Canadians with ties to the region fear for friends and relatives left stranded by the disaster.
 

No one was prepared for this. Most people have lost everything that they have.- Prasad Nair, president of Mississauga Kerala Association

"No one was prepared for this," said Prasad Nair, president of the Mississauga Kerala Association, located west of Toronto. "Most people have lost everything that they have."

Nair, who came to Canada from Kerala in 2003, said one of his relatives saw his house fully submerged in water and had to stay on the roof for two days before being rescued.

"The house that I lived in during my childhood has been fully submerged in water for five days," said Nair, 47.

The international community needs to understand what's happening in Kerala because the state will need help, he said.

Nair said the association will continue to fundraise for the disaster, but urged the Canadian government to pledge to donate, especially to rebuild, as officials estimate over 10,000 kilometres of roads have been damaged.

"We are working really hard to get an appointment with the PM's office," he said. "But we have not heard anything back from him yet."

"Canada has the technology, ability and experience in these kinds of disaster operations," he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter on Saturday that he sends his deepest condolences to those affected, and a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Storm damage at nearly $3B

Indian officials have put initial storm damage estimates at nearly $3 billion.

At least 250 people have died in the flooding in a little over a week, with 31 others missing, according to Kurian. More than 1,000 people have died in flooding in seven Indian states since the start of the monsoon season, including over 350 in Kerala.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi got an aerial view of the affected areas on Saturday. (EPA-EFE)

In Vatican City on Sunday, Pope Francis held a moment of silence during his noontime blessing to pray for Kerala flood victims.

"I am close to the church in Kerala, which is on the front lines in providing aid to the people," Francis said. He called for solidarity and "the concrete assistance of the international community."

Kerala has a sizeable and ancient Christian community. Francis had hoped to visit India last year when he visited Bangladesh, but preparations fell apart in New Delhi and the Vatican added Myanmar to his trip instead.

Workers prepare food aid in Jalandhar, in northern Punjab state, to be shipped to flood-hit areas. (Shammi Mehra/AFP/Getty Images)

With files from The Canadian Press