Responding to India’s Worst Flooding in a Century
One million people displaced, entire families missing, 400 confirmed deaths
Kerala, India – often referred to as God’s Own Country – a place known for its tranquil beauty and picturesque beaches, sits in ruins after a series of severe downpours has left the state under water.
A region that anticipates monsoon season every year from June to September, Kerala has found itself in a state of disaster with one million people displaced and a death toll that now surpasses four hundred, though many think the number is likely to be much higher.
“People were caught unaware. No one expected this could happen. No one. And then, for many, it was just too late.” – Rev. Dr. Tomi
The flooding that began in late July became deadly following an unforgiving monsoon that swept through the region on August 8. Buildings, bridges, homes, and people have been swept away. Cars, crops, and livestock have been submerged in what is being called the worst flooding India has experienced in nearly a century.
It is estimated that this year’s monsoon season has brought 40 percent more rainfall than normal leaving all 44 of Kerala’s rivers flooded and requiring all 39 dams to be opened.
In addition to the flooding, Kerala has also experienced a series of landslides that led to the disappearance of countless people. Hundreds are missing and hospitals are teeming with the injured, sick, and stranded. Many churches and schools have become shelters to those who had to evacuate their homes. Many people whose homes were not affected by the floods opened their doors to offer a place to neighbors and strangers – to those who lost everything.
“Communities are built on wants not in affluence.” – Rev. Dr. Tomi
Rescue efforts continue as an estimated 10,000 people remain stranded without food or water. Over one million people have taken shelter in the 4,000 relief camps spread across Kerala. Although waters have begun to recede, residents and relief workers are standing by, as more rainfall is predicted across the region through Monday. One of the major concerns now is the risk of waterborne illnesses.
Testimonies From Victims of the Flood
“My relatives stayed in the house. They didn’t understand the severity of the situation. As the water levels rose, they didn’t know what to do. By the time help arrived, they were dead.” —Krishna, Kerala resident
“My entire family, my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and their two children under six years of age, have suffered a crippling loss. They are all displaced by the floods in Kerala. They are currently in a relief camp. My parents are ill, suffering from hypertension and diabetes. The only breadwinner is my brother, Jose, who is a painter. The two-bedroom house is completely submerged in water. Jose said his family of six has no home, and no hope of returning to normalcy, as they had so little from the outset.” —Sister Viji, originally from Kerala, currently located in Springfield, Illinois.
“My business was critically damaged – it is completely submerged in water. I am heartbroken. I recently borrowed a significant amount of money from the bank to help rebuild my business, and now it is all gone. I don’t know that I will ever recover.” —Vincent, business man from Vadasherrykara of Pathanamthitta District.
“I lost my house. My parents lost their house. My brother and my sister both lost their houses. Everything is gone. We relied on agriculture and the land is all under water and so too is our livelihood. Who can we turn to for help? —Chaitanya, Kerala resident
Partnering for Relief
CMMB is partnering with Reverend Dr. Tomi and his organization Healing Hands for India to respond to the crisis. They are actively involved in relief efforts on the ground, helping to provide people with shelter, food, water, and medical care. But they need our support.
“These people are resilient. They are fighters. The young are out on the front line of the rescue and relief efforts. They are coming together to take care of each other. Like the local fisherman, who rescued over 85,000 people who were stranded using their fishing boats. This is what community looks like.” – Rev. Dr. Tomi
Rev. Dr. Tomi also quoted a saying he said he’d learned during his studies, “Communities are built in wants not affluence.” He continued, “communities grow when people need each other. In India, communities matter. This is a saving grace for the people because you never feel totally alone.”
For most, returning home is not an option, as their houses are submerged in water. The road to recovery is a long one. While news about the flooding fades from the media, the people of Kerala face some of the biggest challenges of their lives.
It is important to know that India has refused to accept any aid from foreign governments, based on a policy of self-reliance that followed the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. This means that non-government organizations and private donors are critical for rescue and relief efforts.
Rev. Dr. Tomi talked about one man, who upon returning home and seeing the level of devastation, took his own life. “For some, the thought of trying to rebuild a life is just too much. Our help has never been more needed.” He also spoke of the children – about their vulnerability. “We don’t often think about children’s emotional state during an emergency or crisis. Most schools in the area are closed – many destroyed. They have lost so many childhood treasures.”
Recently, Shashi Taroor, the former Under Secretary General for communication at the UN responded to various social media comments with the following:
“This is my answer. Angels are everywhere. Some are in the form of school children breaking open their piggy banks to buy supplies for the relief camps. Some of them are fishermen bringing their boats to haul strangers from flooded bungalows while their own children might be starving. Some angels from the KSEB wear yellow helmets and can be found high up in electrical posts repairing connections in torrential downpour. Some angels speak a different language and are in a different place gathering supplies for a state they’ve never visited. Some of them wear uniforms – of the police, fire force, armed forces or white coats of doctors and nurses. Some are Bihari/Bengali/UP migrant street vendors you wouldn’t give a second glance, who donate their entire stock of bed sheets and blankets to relief camps. Some angels are Government officials who have not gone home in days. Some angels are manning laptops in different corners of the world coordinating search and rescue without taking a break. In Kerala these days, you meet angels without wings everywhere….digging into their own pockets to buy food, water, bed sheets and toiletries for their brothers and sisters. I tell you, in Kerala, angels are everywhere.”
We are dedicated to join Rev. Dr. Tomi, his team, and all the angels to help children and families start to rebuild their lives. But, we can’t do it alone.
About Rev. Dr. Tomi Thomas
Rev. Dr. Tomi Thomas earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work from the University of Utah, a Master of Social Work from the University of Mumbai, and holds Bachelor’s degrees in Theology, Arts, and Philosophy. After completing a five-year term as Director-General of Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI), among many achievements, he established programs to reposition nun-nurses as community-health enablers, and implemented telemedicine for primary healthcare and health promotion across multiple states. To Healing Hands for India, Rev. Dr. Tomi Thomas has brought expertise in Health Research, Community Organization, Disaster Relief Intervention and Family Counseling.
A pioneer for the voiceless, in 2016 Rev. Dr. Tomi Thomas was appointed by Pope Francis as an Ordinary Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.