Some 370 people have been killed by flash floods in the southern Indian state
Indian passengers travel in a truck to a safer place as floodwaters ravage National Highway 47 in Ernakulam district of Kochi in the Indian state of Kerala on Aug. 17. (Photo by AFP)
Hundreds of people are dead and nearly a million are in temporary relief camps in the southern Indian state of Kerala after overflowing rivers ploughed through residential areas.
Flash floods have killed some 370 people and sent about 846,000 people into relief camps following week-long rains that that filled up more than 30 dams. The large rainfall forced authorities to open dam sluices which caused flooding of more than 40 coastal rivers.
Some estimate that at least 30 percent of 30 million people in the state are affected by flooding.
The death toll is likely to increase as there is no information about thousands of people stranded in the hilly districts of the Idukki and Wayanad, said Father George Vettikattil, who directs the Kerala Social Service Forum that oversees the Catholic Church's rescue and relief operations.
Father Jose Plachickal, the vicar general of Indukki district, said several villages remain cut off due to landslides.
Father Thomas Punamadathil, who works with the social service wing of Bathery Diocese in Wayanad district, said rescue and relief teams are unable to reach many places, especially those where tribal people live.
"Some relief campus are now isolated after roads were blocked by landslides," Father Punamadathil told ucanews.com on Aug. 20, adding that it was difficult to deliver food and water to those in the camps.
India's top trade association has estimated the disaster will cost the state US$2.8 billion, much of it being lost in the agricultural sector and in international trade.
In flood-affected areas, tribal people who depend on farming and livestock for survival have been hit hard, said Father Punamadathil.
"They lost everything virtually in an instant," he said. "Their bamboo and mud houses were totally destroyed and their livestock was washed away. Most of them now have nothing but the cloth on their body."
Catholics hold placards referring to the floods in Kerala, India, prior to the Pope's Angelus prayer on Aug. 19 at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. (Photo by Filippo Monteforte/AFP)
Thousands of Catholic volunteers have joined early clean-up efforts to protect communities from the risk of diseases and other health issues, he said.
Caritas India has 10 million Indian rupees (US$145,0000) to help the flood victims, spokesperson Jaimon Joseph said.
With the help of its units in Kerala's 41 dioceses, Caritas is aiming to assist some 20,000 families by providing them with food and hygiene support, Joseph said. Caritas will also implement a cash for work program to assist some 10,000 tribal families.
The Catholic charity also plans to assist in the rebuilding of shelters for the poorest victims of the flooding. The shelters will be made using local materials and each will cost about $US 13,000, he said.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Bishops' Conference of India, has asked the country's bishops to come together to help the victims.
"We are distressed by the extensive damage to the life and property through a disaster of this magnitude," Cardinal Gracias said.
During his Sunday prayers, Pope Francis urged the international community to assist those affected by the flooding.
He said the church was assisting with relief efforts and he urged those gathered at the Vatican to pray for those who had died and those affected by the disaster.
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