India uses military air base to assist Kerala flood relief efforts

The Indian military opened an air base to commercial flights in the flood-ravaged Kerala to help speed up relief efforts, as hundreds of boats and dozens of helicopters scramble to rescue those still stranded.

The first flight landed at the Indian naval air station in the city of Kochi (also known as Cochin), where the commercial airport has been closed for nearly a week.

Thousands of rescuers were continuing efforts to reach out to stranded people and get relief supplies to isolated areas, said P.H. Kurian, a top disaster management official in Kerala.

Valiant rescue efforts included dramatic video showing a young boy being airlifted to safety from a home surrounded by flood waters.

In response to an evacuation, in which two women were saved from floods by a Naval aircraft, residents said thank you by painting a message on their house roof.

Residents left a big thank you note to Indian rescuers working to save villagers from the Kerala floods. Credit: Spokesperson of Indian Navy

The Air India flight that landed in Kochi 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 August 8.

Floods and landslides have killed at least 350 people in Kerala since then, with about 800,000 people taking shelter in some 4,000 relief camps.

An elderly man wades through flood waters. Credit: AP

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.

An aerial view of flooded Chengannur in Kerala Credit: AP

The town itself, which is on slightly higher ground, has escaped the worst of the flooding, but the situation is far more grim just a couple of 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 centre.

“It could take a month.”

A volunteer throws a pack of bread towards a family. Credit: Aljaz Rahi/AP

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 three billion US dollars.