India’s army is stepping up efforts to rescue thousands of people stranded by flooding across India’s southern Kerala state that has killed 324 people.
Hundreds of troops, and dozens of boats and helicopters are helping to evacuate people from what officials say is the worst flooding there in a century.
Many people are still believed to be trapped on rooftops of flooded homes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier flew over the worst-hit sites and met state officials to discuss the crisis.
Weeks of heavy monsoon rains triggered landslides and floods, with more forecast and a red alert in place. Strong winds are also predicted for Saturday and Sunday.
Across India close to 1,000 people have been killed in the current rainy season, which began in June, officials say.
Situation in Kerala
Kerala’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, says the flooding is the worst the state has seen in 100 years.
He told reporters that more than 223,000 people were now living in more than 1,500 emergency relief camps set up in the area.
There are also fears that many people remain stuck on trees and rooftops – NDTV says the number is in the thousands, but other news sites puts the figure in the hundreds.
According to The Times of India, at least 10,000 people are stranded in one village alone after all surrounding roads were submerged.
People who are stuck without electricity and supplies have been resorting to social media to appeal for help and say they have been unable to contact rescue services.
Parts of Kerala’s commercial capital, Cochin, are also under water, snarling up roads and leaving railways across the state impassable.
In a meeting convened to assess the flood situation in the State, CM Pinarayi Vijayan informed Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the State has suffered a loss of ₹19,512 crore as per initial assessment.
The PM also announced financial assistance of Rs 500 cr for Kerala floods; ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh per person to next kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 for seriously injured person from Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund.
Efforts put in place
Hundreds of troops backed by military helicopters are involved in a huge rescue effort.
“We are deploying more boats and the army to ramp up rescue operations,” state government official PH Kurian told AFP news agency.
The Times of India said 51 navy vessels and 23 military helicopters had been deployed.
Helicopters have airlifted emergency supplies to many areas and a special train that carries drinking water has been sent to the state.
Prime Minister Modi flew to Cochin early on Saturday where he chaired a meeting of officials, before conducting an aerial survey of the worst affected areas.
The international airport there is closed because of flooding on the runway.
Anil Vasudevan, the head of the Kerala health disaster response wing, has said they are prepared to help victims and are planning for the risk of water-borne diseases when the flooding recedes.
Why is the situation so bad?
It is normal for Kerala to get some of the country’s highest rainfall during monsoon season, but the India Meteorological Department said it had been hit with 37% more than usual because of a spell of low pressure over the region.
Many fear the situation may get worse as further downpours are forecast over the weekend.
Environmental scientists are also blaming deforestation, especially the failure to protect ecologically fragile mountain ranges in the area, local media report.
Mr Vijayan, the region’s chief minister, has said the situation in Kerala has been made worse by neighbouring governments.
Earlier this week, he and his counterpart in Tamil Nadu had a public spat over the release of water from a dam.
Kerala has 41 rivers flowing into the Arabian Sea, and 80 of its dams are now said to be open after being overwhelmed.
“Almost all dams are now opened. Most of our water treatment plants are submerged. Motors are damaged,” Mr Vjayan said.
Krishna Jayan, 58, said she was at home sleeping when her friend woke her up.
“I opened the door and water gushed in,” she said. “When we stepped into the street, we were neck-deep in water.”
She said locals had tied ropes along the streets to help people walk through the water, allowing her and her friend to reach a bus to escape.