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Indian military scales down flood rescue operations

/ 06:26 PM August 21, 2018

KOCHI, India  — The Indian military is scaling down rescue operations in the southern state of Kerala, a tropical tourist haven where intense floods killed more than 200 people and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Decreasing rains and floodwaters means the navy can cut back on its rescue teams in Kerala, navy spokesman Capt. D.K. Sharma said in a statement Monday. The navy has rescued nearly 16,000 people in the state.

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The annual monsoon rains were already underway in Kerala when it was hit by torrential downpours beginning Aug. 8. The rains had decreased substantially by Monday and meteorologists are expecting light-to-moderate rains in coming days.

Thousands of people have been leaving Kerala’s relief camps over the past two days, heading home to check on damage and begin the long process of cleaning up.

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“There was sludge and muck nearly up to my knee,” a dismayed Abdullah Aliyar said Tuesday. The 65-year-old, who has been living with his family at a relief camp for more than a week, returned briefly to his nearby home Monday to find it uninhabitable and without drinking water or electricity.

For now, the family of five will remain at Union Christian College, a sprawling campus on high ground just outside Kochi. It is one of more than 3,000 relief camps created amid the havoc of the floods.

Volunteers at the camp estimate that up to 10,000 people were jammed into the schools’ buildings a week ago. Today, there are perhaps 1,500.

“People are going home, or to their relatives homes,” said K.H. Shahabas, a local elected official who has been working in the camp since it was created. He said thousands of people poured into the college a few days after the floods began, when other low-lying relief camps were inundated.

While water and electricity have returned to parts of Kerala, the state’s utilities were working to restore service to vast areas that still have no service, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

“In many areas the condition has improved wherein people can somehow return to their houses,” Kerala’s top elected official, Pinarayi Vijayan, told reporters Monday. “Water is receding in many places, but in some places it may take a little more time.”

Vijayan said 223 people had died in Kerala since Aug. 8. /ee

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