Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 18: The death toll in the Kerala floods climbed to 196 as 22 more deaths were reported on Saturday, even as fresh trouble loomed large for authorities due to the prediction of more rains, with 11 districts continuing on a red alert.
The India Meteorological Department forecast on Saturday afternoon that widespread rains, with heavy rains at isolated places, is likely to continue over Kerala following low-pressure area very likely to develop over northwest Bay of Bengal and neighbourhood during the next 24 hours. Barring Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Kasargode, the remaining 11 districts of Kerala continued to be on red alert and can expect more rains.
The 22 deaths reported during the day were in Ernakulam, Thrissur, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Chengannur districts. The worst affected places include Aluva, Chalakudy, Chengannur, Alappuzha and Pathanamthitta, where massive rescue operations were on as scores of persons were rescued by rescue teams.
Media houses continued to be flooded with requests from friends and relatives of those stranded in affected areas. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a review meeting in Kochi that the death toll since May 29 was 357. Over 3.53 lakh affected persons had been lodged in over 2,000 relief camps, he said.
Modi sanctioned Rs 500 crore to the flood-battered state, apart from Rs 100 crore announced earlier by the Centre on August 12, before returning to Delhi after an aerial survey of the affected areas.
Vijayan told the media here that the situation is "very serious and grave". "The death toll would have been higher, but for the work we did. Things are under control," said Vijayan, whose government was flayed by Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala for failing to take up rescue and relief work effectively.
Food Minister P. Thilothaman, camping at Chengannur, told the media: "The need of the hour is that people require food packets and drinking water. About 15 small boats of the Navy are expected to join rescue and relief work. But, after dusk, no rescues are possible. Helicopters are also needed for faster evacuation."
Meanwhile, anger mounted across Kerala as coordination of rescue work went haywire due to the magnitude of the calamity. Leader of Opposition Chennithala flayed the state for failing in the endeavour. "I have been flooded with calls from the affected persons. Even now, thousands of people are stranded. The Chief Minister dismissed with contempt when I said this week that rescue and relief should be handed over to the Army. I do not want to blame anyone but it has been proved beyond doubt that the state government has failed," said Chennithala.
More fishing boats from various places reaching affected areas during the day. Alappuzha Superintendent of Police A.P. Surendran said: "Things are moving fast on Saturday. Helicopters and more boats have been pressed into service. We are confident we will be able to rescue more stranded people."
The situation in Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad and Wayanad inched towards comparative normalcy as rains slowed and water level receded, with many living in crowded relief camps awaiting to return home.
At several places in waterlogged areas, banks could not function normally since staff failed to report for duty due to flooding. Railway services between Ernakulam and Thrissur remained suspended on Saturday with long-distance trains diverted via the Nagercoil route.
Certain blockades on the Thrissur-Palakkad highway though were cleared for traffic. Army personnel worked hard to clear the roads to Munnar. Kerala is facing the heaviest rains and consequent widespread floods and destruction since 1924, which the state estimates have caused a loss of over Rs 19,500 crore.