Women make a ‘rangoli’ as they celebrate ‘Onam’ at a flood relief camp in Kochi on Saturday, Aug 25, 2018. (Source: PTI)

As Death Toll Climbs To 293, It Was A Grim Onam In Kerala

Kerala's major annual festival Onam was today marked by a sombre mood with nearly six lakh displaced people still in relief camps even as the toll duet to excessive rainfall and flooding rose to 293, with 15 people missing.

Onam is celebrated with great pomp across the state, but this time around festivities are the last thing on people's minds as they come to grip with the devastation.

The usual celebrations, like "pookolam" (floral carpets) and preparing feasts, were missing in many rain-affected areas while comparatively subdued elsewhere.

Kerala’s citizens have won praise for their united efforts to help in rescue and relief efforts. People from different religions came together to provide shelter to their brethren with a mosque, turned into a relief camp, hosting Onam celebrations in the Alappuzha district.

According to state government data as many as 28 bodies were recovered today, pushing the toll to 293 since Aug. 8, when the second spell of monsoon turned disastrous for the state, triggering landslides and floods.

Fifteen people are still missing, state disaster control room sources said putting the overall toll in rain-related incidents at 445 since May 29, when South West Monsoon set in over the southern state.

The state government has cancelled official Onam celebrations in view of the monsoon fury.

Yet, forgetting their miseries, 5.97 lakh men, women and children in schools, colleges, convention halls, mosques and churches, which are doubling up as relief camps, got together to celebrate the festival in whatever manner they could.

An artist dresses up as Mahabali King Maveli shakes hands with a child during ‘Onam’ celebrations at a flood relief camp in Kochi on Saturday, Aug 25, 2018. (Source: PTI)
An artist dresses up as Mahabali King Maveli shakes hands with a child during ‘Onam’ celebrations at a flood relief camp in Kochi on Saturday, Aug 25, 2018. (Source: PTI)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed hope the festival will give new strength to the people to overcome the adversities.

"May this Onam give further strength to the people of Kerala to overcome the adversities they have been facing for the past few days," he wrote on Twitter.

The entire nation stands shoulder to shoulder with Kerala and prays for the happiness as well as prosperity of its citizens, he added.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi said this was a difficult time for the state's people and urged all to put aside differences and focus on the task of rebuilding Kerala.

"In relief camps and homes across the state, people are grieving for their loved ones. On this Onam let us pledge to put aside our differences, stand united together and focus on the task of #RebuildingKerala," he tweeted.

Reflecting communal amity, more than 240 youngsters from across religions got together to clean up a temple at Aluva near Kochi, filled with mounds of dirt and mud left by the Periyar river.

In Alappuzha district, among the worst hit in the second spell of rains, the mosque, where onam was celebrated, gave shelter to people of all religions on Aug. 18, a mosque committee official said.

Bakr Id was celebrated here last week and in the same spirit, Onam was observed today and the feast was prepared by the people in the camp.

In Kuttanad district, most of which is still waterlogged, many people are still in relief camps.

Young Nandana, who returned home from a camp in Kochi, was busy drying her textbooks and notes as the sun came out this morning. "There is no pookalam due to floods," she said.

In the famous Thrikakkara temple at Kochi, dedicated to Vamana, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the usual "Onam sadya" was not held this year.

Onam commemorates the return of mythical demon King Mahabali to see his beloved subjects at the beginning of 'Chingam', the first month of the Malayalam Calendar.

As rescue operations are almost complete, the state government is now focussing on rehabilitation and assessing the damage caused.

At least 70,000 houses have been damaged fully or partially, sources in the Chief Minister's office said to PTI.

While initially the hilly Waynad and Idukki districts were worst hit, in the second spell of rains, Pathnamthitta, Ernakulam and Alapuzha districts bore the brunt of the rains and floods, they said.

As the toll climbed, Idukki accounted for maximum 51 deaths, followed by Ernakulam (38), Alapuzha (34), Malappuram (30) and Palakkad 21 among the worst affected.

Meanwhile, a three-member UNICEF team visited relief camps in Alapuzha district and was all praise for the administration's efforts in maintaining cleanliness, quality of food and safety aspects, District Collector S Suhas said in Facebook post.

Actors, including Mamootty and singer KS Chitra visited various relief camps and interacted with the people.

The Indian Airforce handed over a cheque for Rs 20 crore to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan today for relief work.

All officers, airmen, non combatant enrolled and civilians of the force across the country contributed their one day salary, a defence release said.

A report from Tamil Nadu said the state government today sent 256 electricity transformers and 40,000 power meters apart from one lakh litres of 'Amma' brand of bottled drinking water to the flood-hit neighbouring state.