Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan reiterated on Friday evening that the flood situation in the state continues to be serious even as intense rescue operations have managed to take over 80,000 people to safety.
Addressing a press conference on Friday evening at the capital, Thiruvananthapuram, he said that 82,442 people had been rescued on Friday, primarily with the help of navy and fisherfolks' boats.
According to official figures, 71,591 people had been rescued from Aluva in Ernakulam district, 5,550 from Chalakudy, 3,060 from Chengannur, 2,000 from Kuttanad, and 741 from Thiruvalla and Aranmula.
The Chief Minister also confirmed that the 324 people had died in the floods between the start of south west monsoon rainfall on May 29 and the morning of August 17. Over half of them- 164 across the 14 districts- had died in the deluge beginning August 8.
"Central forces, police, fire forces, fishermen are all working together for rescue operations. Over 40,000 police officers, 3,200 fire fighters, 46 navy teams, 13 air force teams, 18 army contingents, 16 coastguard contingents and 21 National Disaster Response Force teams had been pressed into service. Disaster management, police, and fire forces are working together with Central forces," he said.
16 air force helicopters, 79 NDRF boats and 403 boats of the fishing community in the state were used in the rescue efforts.
The CM noted that the rescue efforts had proved more tricky in Chalakudy and Chengannur districts.
He also assured that as of 6am on Saturday, 12 big army boats will reach Chalakudy; 5 to Kalady, 15 to Chengannur and 10 more to Thiruvalla.
More army boats are expected to arrive by flight to Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam.
4 air force helicopters are set to reach Chalakudy and Chengannur on Saturday morning while three navy helicopters are expected at Thiruvalla, Aranmula, and Kozhencherry.
While admitting that the rescue operations were tough on Friday, the CM assured that it would be easier on Saturday with the help of more helicopters and boats.
The CM also noted that some people were reluctant to get on the helicopter.
The Chief Minister committed to paying private vehicles involved in rescue operations a cash fee, adding that he did not wish to add to the victims' difficulties by imposing financial trouble.
The Chief Minister dispelled rumours about critiquing Additional Chief Secretary, Revenue and Disaster Management, PH Kurian, stating, "False news has come. I haven't shamed him. I only conducted a general review. He is working very dedicatedly."
The state’s Forest and Wildlife Protection Minister K Raju who is in Germany to attend a conference had received severe flak for not being present at the worst floods the state had faced since 1924. Pinarayi Vijayan said that the Minister would be back soon.
The Chief Secretary had a video conference with the Cabinet Secretary, reiterating the needs of the state. "We said we need 600 boats and more helicopters. We also asked them for use of the Kochi navy airport since the Cochin International Airport has been closed.”
Small planes were green-lighted for use of the naval airport.
As of Friday evening, 2094 relief camps across the state housed 3,14,391 people from 70,085 families. The CM assured that the camps were providing food, water and medicines to the people.
The helicopters and boats were also used to distribute food to those in isolated areas as well as in relief camps.
The Chief Minister also expressed his gratitude to other states that had come forward to help Kerala: Punjab, Maharashtra and Telangana would provide packaged food while the Chief Minister of Delhi has reportedly assured a donation of Rs 10 crore along with other assistance.
Indian Railways had provided 1,50,000 bottles of drinking water and is more expected to arrive.
The CM added that petroleum products couldn't reach through flooded roads.
When the CM was asked about 37 journalists who were stranded at Cheruthoni, he replied that everyone else in that place would also be facing the same problem.
Exorbitant air fares
The Chief Minister addressed the issue of exorbitant air fares following complaints from several people who were trying to reach the state to help their families. Several Non Resident Indians(NRIs) in the state were also left stranded.
"A decision has been made. The maximum fare from Thiruvananthapuram to Delhi is Rs 10, 000. Accordingly, rates to other airport would be decided,” he said.
Note: In case you are looking for someone stranded in Kerala or have information about someone, use this 'Person Finder', which crowdsources information, to help.