1 million pour into relief camps after deadly floods in south India

More than 1 million people have swarmed relief camps in India's Kerala state to escape devastating monsoon floods as international aid operation gathered pace.

More than 1 million people have swarmed relief camps in India’s Kerala state to escape devastating monsoon floods that have killed more than 410 people, officials said yesterday as a huge international aid operation gathered pace.

People are flocking to camps as the scale of the desolation is revealed by receding waters and the military rescues more people each day.

The Kerala government said 1,028,000 people are now in about 3,200 relief camps across the southern state. Officials said six more bodies were found Monday, taking the death toll to more than 410 since the monsoon started in June.

Kerala authorities say they are desperate for funds and the United Arab Emirates yesterday promised US$100 million in aid, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced.

The amount is more than the US$97 million so far promised by India’s central government. Vijayan demanded a US$375 million package from the government, saying the state must confront more than US$3 billion in devastation.

Millions of dollars in donations have poured into Kerala from the rest of India and abroad in recent days. Other state governments have promised more than US$50 million while ministers and company chiefs have vowed to give a month’s salary.

Meanwhile, top Indian environment experts who predicted devastating floods would hit Kerala state said yesterday their warnings went unheeded by politicians eager to fast-track money-making projects.

Kerala is criss-crossed by 44 rivers and famed for its backwaters, a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes.

Muralee Thummarukudy, a UN disaster response expert, and ecologist Madhav Gadgil, warned in reports back as far as 2011 that a mega-monsoon was inevitable and that the state was ill-prepared.

Critics say Kerala and the national government have ignored environmental concerns as they push power plants and coal mines, hotel resorts and new housing.

Lakes and wetlands that soak up floods have disappeared, and new concrete buildings concentrate excess water in certain areas and make it harder to drain away. 

The rescue operation is now focused on the worst-hit areas such as Chengannur, where more than 60 centimeters of water blocked many roads as more rain fell yesterday.

Army teams said several thousand people in the town remained in homes inundated by 10 days of torrential downpours.

In nearby Pandanad, locals said there was a desperate shortage of drinking water and dry clothes and people implored drivers of passing vehicles for supplies.

Dozens of helicopters and even drones have been dropping food, medicine and water to cut-off villages.

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