Members of the Church of South India have been at the heart of relief efforts after flooding devastated swathes of the southwestern state of Kerala. Affected dioceses include Cochin, East Kerala, and Malabar.
About 350 have died in the floods, and more the 700,000 are displaced and living in relief camps around the region. The crisis began with a wave of monsoons, leading to swollen rivers. Eventually 35 of the 36 dams in the region broke, releasing nearly 700,000 liters of water per second, causing landslides, flooding homes, and blocking roads.
The Most Rev. Thomas K. Oommen, moderator of the church, was among the first to visit the suffering, either traveling by foot or by boat, because of washed-out roads. After the dams broke and the situation became more dangerous, he and other diocesan leaders continued to visit those in need, handing out kits with food and medicine.
Churches have turned their parish halls, schools, and administrative buildings into relief centers, providing medicine, food, and clothing. Although the water has begun to recede, the relief centers will continue to operate for at least another week.
Young people in the church have also responded through social media. “Cyber warriors” in the Diocese of Madhya Kerala have organized a rescue helpline. Operating from the CSI Retreat Center in Kottayam, they have communicated with those in need through social media, especially a “Kerala Flood Rescue Facilitating Group” on Facebook.
They collect information on survivors, find them on Google Maps, and share that with rescue teams. They also provide families with news about survivors. Now that the floodwaters are receding, the team is focused on informing the volunteers about specific needs of medicine, food, and clothes at the relief camps.
“It is really heartening to see how many of the young teams, predominantly the IT professionals, led this social media war against the floods across the state using the connections,” said a statement from the Diocese of Madhya Kerala.
The Rev. Sunil Raj Philip, a communications officer for CSI who grew up in Kerala, felt helpless as he heard about the situation there. At the same time, the work done by the dioceses also inspires him.
“I couldn’t do anything. I could only tell our partners and update our provincial website,” he said. “My immediate family in Kerala were among the very few to be least affected, but we still feel hit. We still feel the pain.
“But being a priest and person from Kerala, I feel proud of my colleagues, who are relentlessly working to save people.”
Adapted from ACNS