77 People Killed as Torrential Rains and Flooding Batter India’s Kerala

Indian residents look at the Shiva Temple submerged after the release of water from Idamalayar dam following heavy rains in Kochi on August 9, 2018. – At least 20 people were killed on August 9 in landslides triggered by heavy rains in southern India, an official said, pushing the nationwide monsoon death toll for this year to over 700. (Photo credit: -/AFP/Getty Images)

Torrential rains continue to batter the southern Indian state of Kerala for the seventh day in a row, causing widespread flooding and landslides that have led to the deaths of at least 77 people.

As water levels continue to rise, a red alert has been sounded across all districts in the state, which is a popular tourist destination. A red alert warns of extremely bad weather that could cause widespread damage and risk to life, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. The death toll rose by 10 overnight and is expected to rise further, officials told Agence France-Presse Thursday.

For the first time ever, the state government opened 35 of its 39 dams that had dangerously breached their water levels, adding to the flooding, the Indian Express reports. According to the state’s Chief Minister’s Office, 150,000 people have been moved to 1,067 relief camps set up across Kerala, which is home to 33 million people. A major airport has been shut and trains have been disrupted, leaving several hundreds stranded.

Monsoons usually bring heavy rainfall to Kerala every year. But this year’s downpour and subsequent flooding have been cited as the worst in the state in nearly a century. The last time such a deluge ravaged the state was in 1924, when rains lasted for three weeks and submerged several major cities in Kerala.

As incessant rains continue, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has sought assistance from the Indian central government. Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Vijayan said, “Almost all dams are opened, most of our water treatment plants are submerged. As we keep this in mind, our priority is to get food and drinking water to the people.” He also requested the deployment of the Indian naval and military forces for rescue and relief operations, following which Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the country’s Defense Ministry to step up rescue operations across the state.

Shortage of food and potable water remains a primary concern as massive rescue and rehabilitation operations take place. “All shops are flooded and closed and we don’t know where to buy food from,” A. Vijayan, a resident of Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram tells TIME. Vijayan, whose house was submerged following the rains had to wade through chest-deep water to get to safety. He has been living at his workplace since Wednesday while his daughter, accompanied by his sister and family, lives in a relief camp set up by members of a local political party. “My house sustained a lot of destruction and we lost most of our belongings as well.”

According to an early government assessment, 20,000 houses and nearly 6,000 miles of roads have been completely damaged, adding up to a total preliminary loss of almost $1 billion. These figures are likely to increase as the state braces for more rain in the coming days. According to the Indian Meteorological Department, very heavy rainfall is forecast for the next two days. The rains are expected to subside by early next week.

Those involved in rescue operations say rehabilitation efforts after the rain stops would pose a major challenge. “It’s only when these people return home that they will realize the impact of the damage,” says Rina Tripathi, Advisor at Indian Red Cross Society. Speaking to TIME, she said that the group is actively involved in operations on the ground but are facing difficulties owing to continuing rain and lack of connectivity. “We are sending a second batch of relief material so that we can help bring back a semblance of normalcy to those affected.”

SOURCE: TIME, Abhishyant Kidangoor