Kerala floods: Rescue efforts step up as rains begin to ease

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Soldiers winch small children to safety in Kerala's floods (Footage credit: Indian Air Force)

Rescue efforts are being stepped up in the flood-hit Indian state of Kerala, where monsoon rains have eased for now.

The India Meteorological Department has removed a red weather alert from all districts, though some areas are still under water.

India's air force and navy helicopters are airlifting stranded people from rooftops, and dropping food supplies to those they cannot yet reach.

More than 350 people have died in the floods. Thousands remain marooned.

Officials said rescue teams are focused on the riverside town of Chengannur, where as many as 5,000 are feared to be trapped.

A local politician, Saji Cherian, broke down in tears on TV on Friday describing the crisis there. "Please give us a helicopter. I am begging you. Please help me, people in my place will die. Please help us. There is no other solution, people have to be airlifted," he said.

On Sunday, the state's chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan vowed "to save even the last person stranded".

Image source, Reuters
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Flood victims wait for rescue next to a makeshift raft
Image source, AFP/Getty Images
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Many of the stranded have spent days without food or drinking water

Hundreds of government boats have been deployed across Kerala to aid the rescue. The BBC's Yogita Limaye, in Kerala, says the coastal state's many fishermen are providing valuable support, using their own boats to help the relief mission.

As of Saturday, mobile operators are offering free data and text messages for people in Kerala to help those in distress.

Entire villages have been lost to landslides, and soldiers are now clearing the debris and building temporary bridges to help restore transport links.

Image source, AFP/Getty Images
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Torrents of water have rushed through towns and villages

More than 200,000 families have taken refuge in relief camps, according to an official at the Kerala State Disaster Management office.

Authorities are concerned that they could now be hit by an outbreak of water-borne disease, or other contagious sickness. Three people with chickenpox have reportedly been isolated at a camp in the town of Aluva.

Survivors at evacuation centres have described spending days without food or water.

"They were the scariest hours of our life," 20-year-old Inderjeet Kumar told the AFP news agency from a church shelter in the stricken Thrissur district.

"There was no power, no food and no water - even though it was all around us."

Image source, Reuters
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This woman and her young son were rescued from a flooded area of Aluva
Image source, Reuters
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Volunteers organise aid packages at a stadium in the city of Kochi

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi surveyed the state from the air on Saturday, and has promised an immediate grant of 5bn Indian rupees (£55m; $71m).

Initial estimates suggest the floods have caused £2.3bn of damage, AFP reports, but this is expected to rise.

Far from the swirling waters, worshippers in the Vatican were pictured with signs reading "Pray for Kerala" as they gathered for Sunday prayers.

"Our brothers should not lack our solidarity or the concrete support of the international community," Pope Francis told the crowds.

Image source, EPA
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw flood-hit areas of Kerala from above

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