The death toll in India’s southern state of Kerala rose on Monday to nearly 400 after its worst flood in a century, as authorities handed out medicine and disinfectants to ward off disease in thousands of relief camps.
Dozens of people are missing and 1.2 million are sheltering in the camps, state officials said, as water receded and a huge clean-up gathered pace.
“The death toll has risen to 373,” an official of the state’s disaster management authority told Reuters.
Kerala received rainfall more than 40 percent greater than normal for the monsoon season, which runs from June to September. Torrential rain in the last 10 days forced officials to release water from dozens of dangerously full dams.
The Indian government classified the floods as a “calamity of severe nature.” Kerala has pitched it as a national disaster, which if accepted by the federal government, is likely to prompt greater commitments of funds for relief and rebuilding efforts.
But, without a yardstick for such a declaration, it could be an uphill task, state officials involved with disaster management said.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan called the flood one of the worst in India’s history, displacing more than half a million people.
Federal health minister J.P. Nadda said more than 3,500 medical camps were set up across a region roughly the size of Switzerland, where rains since Aug. 8 have swelled rivers and triggered landslides.
“There is a requirement for 90 different medicines and the first installment has reached,” he added.
“The biggest challenges immediately ahead are cleaning of the flood-hit houses, rehabilitation, and prevention of water-borne diseases,” said Mahesh P., a village official in Rayamangalam, about 45 km from Kerala’s financial capital of Kochi.
Mahesh oversees four relief camps in his village, which itself escaped flood damage. The camps accommodate people rescued from neighboring areas, which were among the worst affected.
The villagers had all pulled together to rescue people and prevent an even bigger disaster, Mahesh said.
“The flood has bonded the people like never before, sharing whatever they had.”
Chlorine powder to disinfect water and other cleaning material are distributed by the camps Mahesh oversees, along with a basic survival kit consisting of a five-day supply of rice and food, toiletries and clothing.