ALAPPUZHA, India: The Indian military opened an air base to commercial flights Monday in the flood-savaged southern state of Kerala to help speed in relief and fly out residents.
The first flight landed at the Indian naval air station in the city of Kochi, where the commercial airport has been closed for nearly a week. The Air India flight came from the city of Bangalore in the nearby state of Karnataka, Suresh Prabhu, the minister of civil aviation, said on Twitter.
Other air bases in the region should open to commercial traffic soon, he said.
Kerala has been battered by torrential downpours since Aug. 8. Floods and landslides have killed at least 250 people in Kerala since then, with about 800,000 people taking shelter in some 4,000 relief camps.
Thousands of people are taking shelter in small camps in this coastal town. Many are set up in schools, but at least one is on the grounds of a mosque, where Christians, Hindus and Muslims have all found food and a place to sleep.
The town itself, which is on slightly higher ground, has escaped the worst of the flooding, but the situation is far grimmer just a few kilometers (a couple miles away)
“The water came almost up to my head,” said Ullas, a 48-year-old man who uses only one name, and who fled his village for the safety of the town.
He has no idea when he’ll be able to come back. “We don’t know,” he said, as he helped distribute food in one relief center. “It could take a month.”
With rains decreasing, the water has started receding in parts of Kerala but thousands of people remain cut off and in need of help.
Officials have called it the worst flooding in Kerala in a century, with rainfall in some areas well over double that of a typical monsoon season.
Officials have put initial storm damage estimates at nearly $3 billion.