21 August 2018 - With nearly 400 deaths and 800,000 people displaced, the flood that hit Kerala is the Indian state’s biggest natural disaster in the last 100 years. Torrential rains in the past few months and reckless human activities are largely to blame. As water levels reached their maximum in some 80 dams, water had to be released, thus flooding the surrounding areas.
Days before the flood, Fr Shanthi Chacko Puthussery, a PIME missionary in Papua New Guinea and later in the US, returned to Kerala, to Chalakudy (41 km north of Cochin), to visit his sick parents, and has been a direct witness to the disaster: dead people, flooded houses, his own family scattered among different refugee camps. Here are his impressions:
"Our house is under water up to the first floor. My parents went to stay with my cousin, who is hosting a dozen elderly and sick people. My younger brother, his wife and children are in another place, with hundreds of displaced people.
“My other brother, his wife and children had come from Dubai (where they work) for two weeks. They went to Trivandrum for a wedding and were caught by the flood. Now they are somewhere in a field near Ernakulam, along with another 500 people.
“In Cochin alone, at least 60,000 people are crammed in fields. I recently came to Thamarassery, but (because of the flood) I could not go back and I'm still here at the bishop's residence.
“There has not been any power in my town of Chalakudy for four days, so it is very difficult to get information about my family. Last night my brother told me on the phone that the water is still very high and maybe they will have to move to another place. This morning I tried with the phone to dial several numbers, but I could not get through to anyone.
“My neighbour's house collapsed and his mother, 80, and son, 30 died. Their bodies have been recovered, but the tragedy remains because water is everywhere."
“Chalakudy's problems began when the dams of Mullaperiyar, Peringalkuth and Sholayar were opened. The river overflowed, flooding an area of 7-10 km on either side.
I have never experienced such a disaster in my life. Nothing can be done because our area has no highlands or hills. Helicopters and boats are constantly going back and forth, doing their best to rescue people.
“The area between Chalakudy and Cochin (about 40 km) and Trichur (30 km) is very much affected. The Barathapuzha River is overflowing and the bridge is under water. The pontifical seminary in Alway is safe because it is located on a hill, but from there you can move only by boat because the whole city below is flooded.
Cochin International Airport, in Nedumbassery, is under water and will remain closed until the end of August, but TV reports say it will be back in operation only in the first week of September.”
“Please, I call on all of you to remember us in your prayers."