After Massive Flooding And Landslides, Southern India Gets A Break From Rain

Aug 20, 2018
Originally published on August 20, 2018 7:30 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It's monsoon season in India. And one part of the country, the south, has been especially hard hit this year. Torrential rainfall has triggered landslides and floods - killing more than 350 people. Today, there was finally a break in the heavy rain. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: For days, people in India's southern state of Kerala have been posting SOS calls on social media.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking foreign language).

FRAYER: "I hope you can see this. Please pray for us," a man says into his cellphone camera. He's inside his house. A staircase is in the background. And the water is up to his neck.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking foreign language).

FRAYER: "There's no escape," he adds. Kerala is normally a tourist destination, famous for its beaches, backwaters and coconut palms. It also has some of the best infrastructure in India. But with three times the average monsoon rainfall for the first half of August, authorities were forced to open dams - some of them for the first time in decades.

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FRAYER: Highways, airports and homes have been inundated. Thousands of people have been airlifted off rooftops. Local media carry footage of elderly people being ferried to safety in fishing boats and days-old infants being rescued.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Dramatic visuals there coming from all over the web. A small baby is being reached up out of a completely inundated area.

FRAYER: About 800,000 people have been evacuated altogether. Now that the rain has eased up, they're trying to get home if their homes are still intact. Bulldozers are clearing landslides from roads. Airports are reopening for cargo flights for now. It's a race to deliver supplies to people who've been cut off for a week. There's fear of waterborne disease spreading through evacuee camps.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Speaking foreign language).

FRAYER: This man says he helped rescue his neighbors and now finds his well water tainted with debris. Indian railways have added trains barreling southward, carrying tankers of clean drinking water.

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FRAYER: In a helicopter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi surveyed the damage from above and pledged $70 million in federal aid. Social media is full of crowdfunding efforts. Drop-off points have been established across India for people to send their own donations of supplies. No heavy rain is forecast for the next week, but the monsoon season here lasts through September. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.