India monsoon floods ‘kill more than 300’ in Kerala
At least 324 people have been killed in flooding in the southern Indian state of Kerala, the regional chief minister says.
Rescuers are battling torrential rains to save residents, with more than 200,000 people left homeless in camps.
The state government said many of those who died were crushed under debris caused by landslides.
With more rains predicted and a red alert in place, the main airport has been shut until 26 August.
Hundreds of troops have been deployed to rescue those caught up in the flooding.
Helicopters have been airlifting people marooned by the flooding to safety, with photographs and footage emerging from the area showing elderly people and children being rescued.
More than 300 boats are also involved in rescue attempts, AFP news agency reports.
The government has urged people not to ignore evacuation orders, and is distributing food to tens of thousands who have fled to higher ground.
How bad is the flooding?
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has described the flooding as the worst the state has seen in 100 years.
“We’re witnessing something that has never happened before in the history of Kerala,” he told reporters.
“Almost all dams are now opened. Most of our water treatment plants are submerged. Motors are damaged.”
He added that the failure of the state government of neighbouring Tamil Nadu to release water from a dam had made the situation worse.
Kerala has 41 rivers flowing into the Arabian Sea, and 80 of its dams are now said to be open.
Mr Vijayan said more than 223,000 people were now living in the more than 1,500 emergency relief camps set up in the area.
Parts of Kerala’s commercial capital, Kochi, are underwater, snaring up roads and leaving railways across the state impassable.
Its airport is a hub for domestic and overseas tourists, so its closure is likely to cause major disruption.
Some local plantations are reported to have been inundated by water, endangering the local rubber, tea, coffee and spice industries.
Schools in all 14 districts of Kerala have been closed and some districts have banned tourists citing safety concerns.
What is the government doing?
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set to visit the region on Friday night.
The country’s Home Minister has also offered his support.
Had a telephonic conversation with Kerala Chief Minister Shri Pinarayi Vijayan regrading the prevailing flood situation in the state. The Centre is rushing additional NDRF teams to Kerala. We are providing all possible assistance. I am in constant touch with Kerala CM. @CMOKerala
— राजनाथ सिंह (@rajnathsingh) August 16, 2018
The Indian home ministry says more than 930 people have now died across India since the country’s monsoon season began in June.
Anil Vasudevan, the head of the Kerala health disaster response wing, has said they are prepared to help victims and are setting arrangements in place to deal with the potential risks of water-borne diseases when the flooding recedes.
‘I opened the door and water gushed in’
Shabbir Saheel, 33, still shudders as he recalls how he carried his two-year-old daughter on his shoulders as he waded through flooded streets.
His wife, Jasmine, says she is worried about their future as they had to evacuate their home in a rush.
The couple are now living in a large community hall, which has been converted into one of the relief camps on the outskirts of the city of Kochi. It currently houses some 450 people, including 100 children. Camp officials are providing hot food and medicines to prevent infections.
“There are heavy rains every year but the city has never been flooded so badly,” says Mini Eldho, a district official, who is also living in the camp.
Ms Eldho says she is worried because she doesn’t know how many people are still waiting to be rescued. She says many families are refusing to leave their valuables behind.
Krishna Jayan, 58, says she was at home sleeping when her friend woke her up. “I opened the door and water gushed in,” she says. “When we stepped into the street, we were neck-deep in water.”
She says locals had tied ropes along the streets to help people walk through the water. That’s how she and her friend were able to reach the bus that brought them to the camp.