15 April 2019
Father Sebastian meets with two survivors of the storm, Joy Kannatt and his son.
(photo: Meenakshi Soman)
In the March 2018 edition of ONE, writer Anubha George describes in vivid detail what happened in Kerala last summer When the Rains Came. Below, she offers some additional impressions:
How do you even begin to take in the devastation that a natural disaster causes? What do you say to someone who has lost family, friends and pets? How do you forget the tears of people who tell you life will never be the same again? I have no answers and perhaps I never will.
Last summer, the southern Indian state of Kerala was affected by severe flooding. At least 400 people died. More than a million people lost their homes and were displaced in relentless monsoon rains. Kerala hasn’t endured anything like it in over a century.
All of us in Kerala were glued to our television sets in that week of mid-August 2018. We saw pictures of landslides that blocked the roads in the hilly areas of Kerala. We watched people crying out for help as the rivers swelled and the water made its way into their homes. We saw the rescue and relief operation that saved lives. We all came together as a community, irrespective of religion or class. We cooked for each other and prayed together.
But none of that prepared me for what I saw when we visited Idukki, a place overwhelmed by landslides caused by excessive rain and flooding. Idukki is beautiful and picturesque. Photographs do not do it justice. The tall green trees right to the top of the highest hills make your heart sing.
But it was the same tall trees that fell on houses in the early hours of a mid-August morning, just before daybreak. The only way I can describe it is this: look up at the sky. Now imagine the sky falling down on you. No matter what you see on television or the videos you watch on social media, that is what it is in a nutshell: it is the sky falling down on you.
But what was heartwarming was the effort — especially of the church — to help those in need. The Rev. Sebastian Kochupurackal, one of the friendliest, kindest, most generous people I have ever met, took us around. He heads the High Range Development Society (HRDS), the social arm of Idukki diocese. He knew every single person by their name. He held hands and consoled. He was ever hopeful and cheery.
We went up the hills to meet parishioners. The stories had one common theme: Thank God, I’m alive and my family is safe. Father Sebastian said in times of natural calamity, we take stock of things. That nothing is permanent. Things can change in the blink of an eye. But we are also supremely grateful for the gift of life.
We spent time with people who had lost everything they owned. In a house down the hill, we found a picture of Jesus in the rubble. The lady who lived there picked it up. It was a miracle that the picture was there, she said. All else had been washed away in the rain and the landslide that followed. The church, she knows, will help her. She cried.
But she was not weeping in sorrow. Those were tears of hope that everything would be alright.
You can read more about the flooding in When the Rains Came.
Also, CNEWA’s regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, shares his own personal account of the storm in the video below.
11 September 2018
Tags: India Kerala
Women religious and other residents walk in floodwaters in Kerala, in India. (photo: CNS/courtesy Father Jolly Vadakken via Global Sisters Report)
CNEWA’s regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, just sent us this update on the aftermath of flooding in Kerala:
As a native of Kerala, it was terrible to see such devastating flooding. I thank God that my family somehow escaped.
It was really a catastrophic situation. This was the worst monsoon disaster in Kerala since 1924. More than 450 people died; many were missing for days.
Flood waters submerged houses, shops and destroyed crops. Tens of thousands of people had to be moved to relief camps. The situation was very scary in my own village, which was severely affected. Hundreds of families, including my own, had to take shelter in relief camps. More than 5,000 such camps were opened to accommodate flood victims.
There was no electricity in many villages for weeks; thousands of power connections were disrupted. Rivers changed course, dams overflowed and bridges collapsed.
Almost all the districts of Kerala were affected—more severely, in the districts of Idukki, Wayanad, Allepy, Trichur, Ernakulam, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam and Kannur. Hundreds of landslides occurred in several parts of the state. People were trapped atop houses surrounded by water. They were not able to move due to flooding.
People were evacuated by military helicopters, assisted by the great work done by members of the fishing community. They came with their fishing boats, risking their lives and rescuing those who were trapped. Their experience in the violent sea helped them to face this challenge and save lives.
The flood swept through hundreds of villages, destroying about 6,200 miles of roads. In Kannur district alone, 48 landslides occurred and 2,000 houses were damaged; out of this, 196 houses were totally destroyed, 122 open wells were inundated with dirty flood water, 941 animals were killed, and 95 cattle sheds were washed away.
In Wayanad district, 3,747 families were affected and 14,134 people fled to relief camps; 226 houses were fully destroyed, 1,893 houses partially damaged, and 2,650 acres of agriculture were destroyed.
Idukki was one of the worst hit places, due to landslides and heavy rain. Some 325 landslides occurred in this district. More than 6,175 families were severely affected by the landslides; 60 people died and more than 50 were seriously injured. More than 1,200 houses were fully washed away by the flood, mudflow and landslides. About 6,000 people have become homeless; 2,266 houses were partially damaged, 180 shops totally damaged. Many livestock were lost.
In North Parur region and Aluva in Ernakulam, 117 schools were hit. In North Parur Taluk, almost all the villages were submerged and people were evacuated. Chalakudy in Trichur district was heavily affected, as the water level rose very high due to the Peringalkuthu dam overflowing.
In Kuttanad region, situated at the tail end of four major rivers, the area looked like a festering swamp after four days of torrential rain. Some 125,000 people from this region were in relief camps; about 50,000 chose to move to the houses of their relatives.
Hospitals, clinics, dispensaries, banks, government offices, shops, cattle, crops, food materials, household items — everything was destroyed and people had to depend on relief supplies.
For the first few days, there were no supplies coming in, as the flooding was so heavy that no one could move from one place to another; the people in relief camps had to struggle without food and water. Then, the helicopters dropped food materials and the military vehicles tried their best to bring necessary items to the people in camps.
All the belongings and household items — kitchen utensils, beds, furniture, chairs, tables, medicines, food items, dress materials — almost everything was lost. The most affected are the poor and the daily wage workers who now have to rebuild from almost nothing.
Please give what you can to help support our brothers and sisters in Kerala. Visit this page for more information.
4 September 2018
Tags: India Kerala
Many homes and businesses have been wiped out from the catastrophic flooding in Kerala, and recovery efforts are ongoing. (photo: CNEWA)
Over the weekend, we received an extensive report from Syro-Malabar Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, of the Archdiocese of Trichur, describing in great detail what his people have been facing in flood-ravaged Kerala:
Many bridges collapsed and houses were sunk or destroyed due to heavy water flow. The flood affected some churches also to the extent that we could not celebrate Mass even till today (30 August).
Most of our parish halls, schools and some presbyteries became relief camps. Auxiliary Bishop Tony Neelankavil and myself personally visited several relief camps. I am happy to report that priests, sisters, seminarians, lay church leaders and especially our youth were in the forefront in the rescue work and relief activities. People, irrespective of caste and creed, are helping us. Many parishes and religious houses distributed relief kits with food, clothes, cleaning materials and other essentials. Under the leadership of the Archdiocesan team, more than 5,000 family relief kits (each kit costing about Rs. 4000) were distributed to the neediest families.
The Archbishop’s house in Trichur became a store house of food and other essentials where many volunteers including Rev. Sisters, youth and seminarians were working day and night preparing and dispatching family kits. We are happy to report that some dioceses like Tellicherry, Ramanathapuram and some voluntary organizations sent in trucks materials for family kits with great generosity.
CNEWA, you will recall, has rushed emergency aid to those affected by this crisis. But the story is far from over:
The aftermath is very grave. Although schools opened on 29 August, many are still in relief camps, since their houses were destroyed or seriously damaged. Many cannot enter into their houses because of mud. Many have also lost their livelihood. As snakes and venomous reptiles have inhabited the houses during the flood, people are in a panic. The greatest challenge for us is to provide facilities for people as they go back to their own houses and rebuild. The government, NGOs and the church are preparing short-term and long-term plans for rehabilitation with the help of the local and international agencies.
A persistent threat right now is illness. CNEWA’s regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, writes that many residents are battling the risk of leptospirosis, or rat fever:
The recent excessive rainfall and uncontrolled release of water from various dams in Kerala virtually paralyzed and flooded the state; the people had no option but to struggle through the water-logged areas and pump out the contaminated water at their house. Animals—rats, cattle, dogs, pigs, and many birds and reptiles—carry the infectious bacteria. These animals for hours and days in the flood before they died, which ended up contaminating the water.
There are high risks of infection from leptospirosis, especially to those involved in the rescue operations, along with agricultural workers, shop workers, sewer workers, daily wage workers and many survivors of this disaster.
The health department of the government of Kerala is making all efforts to raise awareness and offer vaccinations throughout the flood-affected areas. But, still more and more people are being admitted to hospitals daily with fever and symptoms.
Meanwhile, the Latin rite Archbishop of Verapoly, Joseph Kalathiparambil, has decided to raise funds by putting his car up for sale. Local news reports explain that proceeds from the sale of the car — a Toyota Innova Crysta — will be used to construct houses for flood victims.
Finally, we can’t overlook the exceptional faith and perseverance of the people. Archbishop Andrews Thazhath concluded his report on this dire situation with a note of prayerful hope:
God has His plans for us. Therefore, even in the worst of calamities, we have hope, since God is faithful and we trust in His Providence. “We know that all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom.8:28) With the help of God and with the support of all people of good will, we hope and pray that we will be able to rebuild Kerala, “God’s Own Country.”
To help our brothers and sisters in need in India, please visit this page. And please remember them all in your prayers! Thank you.
29 August 2018
Tags: India Kerala
Children in Kerala finally returned to school on 29 August after days of devastating floods. Many lost everything, including books, clothes and school supplies. (photo: CNEWA)
CNEWA’s regional director in India, M.L. Thomas, sent us this update from Kerala today:
After a long spell of forced holidays due to floods and vacations surrounding the Hindu Onam festival, millions of children in Kerala started back to school today, 29 August.
While most schools reopened, there is much more work to do. About 250 schools are still closed while the cleanup work continues; in some places, the toilet facilities have to be rebuilt. For some, the buildings remain unsafe. In a few places, they are still waiting for the water to recede. At one school that was turned into a relief shelter, helicopters dropped food packets, damaging some of the roof tiles, resulting in leaks in some of the classrooms; that school is still not open.
Volunteers and school teachers have pitched in to clean class rooms, benches and tables. But in many places, furniture and equipment are still lying outdoors.
The main task of the teachers now is to help the children recover from the terrifying shock of seeing their homes and schools swept away by floodwaters.
The children came through a terrific emotional trauma. Most of the students lost their books and study materials. They are worried about their belongings and how to continue their studies without books. We have to make arrangements to supply books and other materials, with the help of book suppliers and publishers. Most children also lost their uniforms and clothing.
Many church organizations and voluntary agencies are trying to minimize the trauma for children. The teachers will mainly focus on helping students to relax and regain confidence.
To help those in Kerala in need during this difficult time, please visit this page.
28 August 2018
Tags: India Kerala
Residents of Kerala sort through the extensive damage from the floods that swept through the region last week. (photo: CNEWA)
Early Tuesday, we received this update on the crisis in Kerala from M.L. Thomas, CNEWA's regional director in India.
As you know, the flood has devastated many districts in Kerala. Millions of people had to flee to the rescue camps. This has been the most frightening and dangerous situation the people of Kerala have had to face in recent decades.
But now, with the flood waters receding, the Catholic Church — along with many volunteers from social services organizations, along with individuals and local governments — has taken up the challenge of the clean up.
The house owners who are healthy are doing much of the cleaning work—pushing out the dirty mud and stinking water from their homes.
The Kuttanad region, where the flood waters reached last, now has the worst flooding in the state. Around 200,000 people from the region have been evacuated and are waiting in camps. The government plans to begin cleaning operations there on 29 August. Many homes are still overwhelmed by water.
Some who have returned home are working to clean mud and filthy water from their homes, trying to salvage whatever they can. (photo: CNEWA)
There is an acute shortage of clean water; drinking water is being supplied through water tanks loaded on trucks.
The toilet facilities have been washed away. Most families lost everything— including clothing, food, household utilities, school books and even official documents, including deeds and property titles. Many also lost their domestic animals, such as goats and poultry.
The Catholic dioceses in many parts of the state have taken immediate steps to help the families in the relief camps, ensuring they receive food, medicine and clothing. The government alone is not able to meet all the demands of the flooded areas and the needs of the victims. Medical camps have also been set up to help the sick.
The need remains great. CNEWA is rushing aid to the people of Kerala, but more help is needed. Visit this page to learn more. And please: keep our brothers and sisters in India in your prayers!
27 August 2018
Tags: India Kerala
Religious sisters from various congregations prepare items for meals at a relief camp in Trichur, Kerala. (photo: Rev. Jolly Vadakken/Global Sisters Report)
As Kerala struggles to recover from catastrophic flooding, sisters are pitching in with the relief effort.
From Global Sisters Report:
More than 6,700 Catholic nuns are among those helping over a million people taking shelter in relief camps after unprecedented floods ravaged Kerala, a southwestern Indian state.
“This is the biggest rescue and relief operation the Catholic Church in Kerala has undertaken in its history,” says the Rev. George Vettikattil, who heads the church’s relief operations in the state.
The church deployed its personnel and opened its institutions across Kerala to help people after rains and massive floods devastated 13 of Kerala’s 14 districts from 15 August through 20 August. The rain has stopped in many places and water is now receding.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on 24 August told the media that the rains and floods have claimed 417 lives. At least 36 people are still missing.
The floods initially displaced nearly 1.3 million people. About 869,000 people were still sheltered in 2,787 relief centers in the state, Vijayan said.
The initial estimated loss was around 200 billion rupees ($2.85 billion).
Catholic aid agencies such as Caritas India are now working among the flood victims. Caritas India has already spent about 6.1 million rupees ($87,140) distributing food, medicine and sanitation items. Its director Fr. Paul Moonjely says the agency plans to raise another 10 million rupees.
Vettikattil says all 32 Catholic dioceses in Kerala have joined relief works. As many as 69,821 young people and 99,705 lay volunteers joined 6,737 nuns, 2,891 priests and 354 seminarians to rescue stranded people with the help of government agencies and individually, the priest told Global Sisters Report.
And to learn how CNEWA is supporting this effort — and how you can pitch in yourself — visit this link.
24 August 2018
Tags: India Sisters Kerala
Seminarians from the Pune Papal Seminary collected food, medicine and blankets to deliver to residents of Kerala who have lost everything in the floods. (photo: UCANews)
The disastrous flooding in Kerala has prompted a remarkable outpouring of humanitarian support.
CNEWA has rushed aid to the region — and others are also pitching in.
Two trucks carrying the relief material from Pune left for Paravur, one of the worst flood-affected areas in southern Kerala state that is reeling under deluge for the past one week.
The collection was done in collaboration with De Nobili College, Pune and other houses of Pune Papal seminary.
The seminarians and others from the campus collected material for the past one week and sorted and packed them ready for transportation to relief camps.
“We were approached by the authorities seeking help, so started collecting materials,” said the Rev. Vincent Crasta who works in Papal Seminary
Flash floods and landslides in the past week have killed some 380 people and displaced some 800,000 to relief camps as overflowing rivers ploughed through residential areas washing away homes, farm lands, roads and bridges.
Schools, churches, temples, mosques and seminaries and convents have been converted to relief camps accommodating thousands who have no food, cloth or place to sleep.
Father Crasta said that one more truck will leave this evening carrying the relief material.
Five seminarians are accompanying the trucks carrying medicines, blankets, towels, toilet articles, candles, cleaning material, biscuits and bed sheets. The seminarians will return immediately after the relief materials are delivered on Sunday.
But goodwill is also pouring in from people of all religions and castes:
Transgressing all barriers of religion and caste, rich and poor, high and low, Indians have joined hands to provide succor to people reeling under the worst flood in five decades in Kerala.
Justice Kurien Joseph, a Supreme Court judge, Catholic and Kerala native, worked until late at night in New Delhi to help pack and label boxes containing relief materials for flood victims.
“It was heartening to see people unite in love for their suffering brethren casting aside all boundaries of religion and region,” Joseph said as he assisted children and women packing materials.
The flood in the southern state washed away hundreds of houses and submerged villages, killing at least 370 people and displacing about 800,000 to relief camps.
Not only Kerala people living in New Delhi “but people from other parts of India have gathered here. It just goes to show that goodness has not disappeared from humans,” Joseph said.
A group of lawyers launched the initiative through social media. Despite the short notice, people gathered with clothing and food to be packed and sent to the flood-hit state 2,500 kilometers away.
In Kerala, fishermen took out their boats on their own to rescue people. According to reports, they refused remuneration from the government for their voluntary work, saying they did not do it for money.
“Jesus’ love thy neighbor philosophy has never been so evident in our country,” said Lucy John, a teacher from New Delhi’s Mayur Vihar area, where a collection drive was organized by an association of Kerala people.
…Also keen to help, Indian Railways is ferrying relief materials free of cost.
The Ramakrishna Mission, a Hindu organization, is at the forefront of relief operations in northern Kerala, said Swami Shantatmananda, secretary of its New Delhi branch.
“We are sending cash donations from states while our Chennai centers are organizing relief materials,” he told ucanews.com.
Khalsa Aid, the U.K.-based Sikh organization’s Indian wing, has volunteers cooking and providing food for the marooned.
Churches, church-run schools, seminaries, convents and other Christian institutions have opened their doors to stranded flood victims besides providing relief in cash and kind.
And to help CNEWA’s efforts in the region, please visit this page.
23 August 2018
Tags: India Kerala
In India, massive flooding has destroyed thousands of homes in Kerala. CNEWA has released emergency aid to help some 4,000 families in need in the devastated region. (photo: CNEWA)
Catholic Near East Welfare Association has released $67,000 in emergency aid to help some 4,000 families cope with the flooding that has devastated much of the southwestern Indian state of Kerala. Nonstop monsoon rains have swelled rivers, creeks and ponds, immersing heavily populated low lying areas in muddy waters. The rains have triggered landslides, severing power, washing away roads, livestock, crops and homes. More than a million people have fled their homes for refuge in camps set up on higher and drier ground. Up to 400 deaths have thus far been recorded.
The emergency aid includes food kits, potable water, medicines and sanitary items, said CNEWA’s president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, as well as household materials and school supplies for children. These items will be delivered to families in higher elevations in Kerala by social service teams of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches, including the High Range Development Society of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Idukki, the Shreyas Social Service Center of the Syro-Malankara Eparchy of Bathery and the Center for Overall Development of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Thamarassery. Aid to low-lying areas will follow.
The latest reports indicate that the rains have subsided, allowing some of the waters to recede. Recovery efforts are just beginning.”The local government and social service organizations of the church are all involved in rescue operations in many places around Kerala,” writes CNEWA Regional Director M.L. Thomas from his own flooded village near Cochin. “Food packets and clothing are being supplied to the hundreds of relief camps. [But] with so many people stranded in so many places, there is difficulty supplying essential materials.
“Right now, the needs are urgent and immediate. This is a terrible situation and will soon require help to rebuild and rehabilitate many neighborhoods and help thousands who have lost everything.”
An agency of the Holy See, CNEWA works throughout the subcontinent of India, the Middle East, Northeast Africa and Eastern Europe. On behalf of the pope, CNEWA works for, through and with the Eastern churches, rushing aid to displaced families; providing maternity and health care for the poorest of the poor; assisting initiatives for the marginalized, especially the children, elderly and disabled; and offering formation and supporting the education of seminarians, religious novices and lay leaders.
CNEWA is a registered charity in the United States by the State of New York and in Canada. All contributions are tax deductible and tax receipts are issued. In the United States, donations can be made online at www.cnewa.org; by phone at 800‑442‑6392; or by mail, CNEWA, 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022‑4195. In Canada, visit www.cnewa.ca; write a cheque to CNEWA Canada and send to 1247 Kilborn Place, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 6K9; or call toll-free at 1‑866‑322‑4441.
22 August 2018
Tags: India Kerala
A man stands outside what is left of his home following the severe flooding that swept through Kerala. (photo: CNEWA)
The devastating rains that have flooded Kerala have stopped for now. But as the waters recede, the full extent of the damage is finally being revealed.
For the first time in many days, the sun shone brightly over Kerala on Tuesday even as hundreds of thousands remained in relief camps while many who returned home broke down after seeing the enormity of the destruction.
There were no rains and the level of flood water in several areas of the state that got submerged had receded, officials and residents said. But the low-lying areas in the districts of Ernakulam, Idukki and Thrissur were still under a sheet of water.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to hundreds of thousands of Keralites, has pledged $100 million for relief work in Kerala, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced.
“A new Kerala has to be built... Funds are the prime requisite for this. This will be raised by us through various sources besides getting it from the Centre and other agencies,” he told the media.
The need at this moment is great. Please visit this link to learn how you can help — and kindly remember our brothers and sisters in Kerala in your prayers. Thank you!
20 August 2018
Tags: India Kerala
Floodwaters have left thousands of people in Kerala stranded or homeless. (photo: CNEWA)
Late Friday, we received the following message from M.L. Thomas, our regional director in India, regarding the devastating floods that have swept through the region:
The flood situation in Kerala is very scary and unpredictable right now. People — including many of our staff — are overwhelmed by the water and not able to move. Almost all of Kerala is now under water. The telephone and other connections are not working properly. Utilizing all sources possible, I am in touch with some of our priests and I have already received requests for help from many of them. I am personally involved right now in the rescue work.
The local government and social service organizations of the church are all involved in rescue operations in many places around Kerala. Food packets and clothing are being supplied to the hundreds of relief camps. With so many people stranded in so many places, there is difficulty supplying essential materials. However, everything possible is being done by the government and the Catholic church.
My own village is surrounded by floodwaters. There are two relief camps set up at my parish, and at another parish nearby. Thousands of people were evacuated to these two places.
A woman surveys the damage in her flooded home. (photo: CNEWA)
Almost all the dams are releasing water, which is now finding its way into many parts of Kerala through various rivers. In some places, the rain is still pouring.
Right now, the needs are urgent and immediate. This is a terrible situation and will soon require help to rebuild and rehabilitate many neighborhoods and help thousands who have lost everything.
To help support those in need in India, visit this page. And please keep all affected in your prayers.
Tags: India Kerala