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Centre declares Kerala floods 'severe calamity'

August 20, 2018 22:01 IST

The Centre on Monday declared the devastating floods in Kerala a "calamity of severe nature" as the state braced for the gigantic task of reconstruction of destroyed infrastructure and rehabilitation lakhs of people rendered homeless.

The death toll in the current spell of monsoon fury that began on August 8 has risen to 216, officials said.

"Keeping in view the intensity and magnitude of the floods and landslides in Kerala, this is a calamity of a severe nature for all practical purposes," a home ministry official said in New Delhi.

 

This categorisation will enable the state get greater monetary and other assistance from the Centre.

Though rains that pounded the state over the last few days have abated, over 7.24 lakh people are still sheltered in 5,645 relief camps, official sources said.

K Santosh, director of India Meteorological Department's Thiruvananthapuram centre said all alerts have been withdrawn and the state experienced only light to moderate rainfall today. Similar precipitation has been forecast for the next five days.

The Army, the Navy, and the National Disaster Response Force teams continued their rescue efforts.

Lt. Gen. D R Soni, the chief of the Army's Southern Command, told a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram that rescue operations were still continuing and drones being used to help reach to people trapped in areas not easily accessible.

He said 1,500 army personnel were engaged in rescue operations and people stranded on rooftops and inaccesible areas were being winched with the help of defence helicopters.

Efforts were now under way to clear the houses of the debris to make them habitable, officials said, underscoring the need for making available disinfectants like bleaching powder in adequate quantities to prevent outbreak of water-borne diseases.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said Kerala is striving together as one to overcome the "catastrophic" floods with "monumental strength".

Referring to some messages being circulated on social media denigrating the relief efforts by the government, he said in a Facebook post that anyone trying to "pull us down will face serious consequences".

Aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation is, meanwhile, monitoring airfares for flights connecting flood-hit Kerala as this is a unique situation of 'humanitarian crisis', Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu said in the national capital.

Amid concerns raised by many including on social media platforms about steep fluctuations in air ticket prices to and from Kerala, where the main airport at Kochi has been shut till August 26, Prabhu said the ministry as such cannot interfere with the fares but it is "doing it" in this time of crisis.

Kerala Water Authority and Kerala State Electricity Board were trying to restore water and power supply in vast areas that are without power and tap water for the last several days.

Commercial flight operations from the naval airport at Kochi commenced today with the first Air India flight from Bengaluru arriving this morning. Small aircraft are being operated from the naval airport.

Relief material, including provisions, water and fuel have started arriving at the Kochi port from different parts of the country, official sources said.

A team of around 100 doctors and paramedical staff from Maharashtra left for Kerala today to help the flood-affected people.

Meanwhile, The Centre informed the Kerala high court that there was no legal provision to declare a disaster as a national calamity, amid demands for declaring the floods as a national disaster.

In an affidavit, the Centre said it has treated the flood situation in Kerala as a "Disaster of Serious Nature" and has categorised the same as 'L3 Level of Disaster' under the National Disaster Management Guidelines.

"It is submitted that there is no provision in statutes or manuals to declare a disaster as a 'national calamity', howsoever big it may be.

"It is only an expression used in general parlance," the Centre said.

The affidavit was filed in a response to a petition filed for declaring the floods as a national disaster.

Besides Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the ruling Left Democratic Front in the state and the opposition Congress had wanted the Centre to declare the floods a 'national disaster'.

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