Trapped at home in Kerala

Marooned people in Kerala's towns are "rationing" their mobile phone use as they desperately try to contact the authorities to convey their location and ask for rescue teams to be despatched.

By K.M. Rakesh in Bangalore
  • Published 17.08.18
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A landslide wipes out a patch of forest in north Kerala

Bangalore: Marooned people in Kerala's towns are "rationing" their mobile phone use as they desperately try to contact the authorities to convey their location and ask for rescue teams to be despatched.

With the flooded areas left without power for several days, cellphones face the risk of running out of battery charge, and in some instances airtime credit.

So, communities trapped in their homes are using just one phone, belonging to one of them, to send collective distress calls while the rest keep their phones switched off till the one being used runs out of charge or credit.

Since the emergency lines are jammed most of the time, many are calling the Malayalam channels - whose numbers most people seem to know thanks to the popularity of reality TV and talk shows - to pass on their message to the authorities.

Entire towns have been flooded in the Ernakulam and Pathanamthitta districts since dawn on Thursday. Thousands find themselves trapped inside their homes after ignoring Wednesday's official advisories to move to flood shelter camps, thinking they were better off at home.

State authorities, who have no clear idea about the number of people trapped, are sending rescue teams on the basis of phone calls. Air force and coastguard helicopters can be seen hovering over apartments to rescue people waving from rooftops.

Water levels kept rising on Thursday, with more than 30 dams continuing to release water in the absence of any let-up in the rain.

Aluva, an industrial town in Ernakulam, is among the worst hit, with high tide in the Arabian Sea pushing the floodwaters back into the Periyar river. National highways and railway lines are submerged, forcing the cancellation of train and bus services.

Kochi's international airport has been shut since Wednesday, with the tentative time for reopening set for Saturday afternoon. But airport sources said it might remain shut till August 26.

With more rain predicted, people living within 500 metres of either bank of the Periyar in Aluva are being moved out on state government orders.

Local people, state police and firemen are carrying out most of the rescue operations. Cops and fire-fighters have fanned out to homes and hospitals to move people to safety.

With the ground floor flooded in at least three private hospitals, rescuers had moved about 100 patients and their relatives by noon in Aluva, carrying some on their shoulders and some on gurneys or makeshift rafts made of the inner tubes of car tyres. Even a few ICU patients had to be moved.

Flooding of roads and railway lines prevented people from moving to neighbouring Karnataka or Tamil Nadu. Even those living in Sultan Bathery and Kalpetta in Wayanad, just about 100km from Mysore, could not move because of submerged roads.

"I would like to leave for Bangalore, but there's no way out from here," Bikul Remanan, who runs a holiday resort in Kalpetta, told The Telegraph over the phone from Wayanad.

Even families living in relatively safer areas are being forced to ration their food, as groceries and supermarkets are closed.