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Brisbane priest originally from Kerala says disastrous floods ‘the worst I’ve heard in my whole life’

Kerala flods

Unprecedented: Rescue workers evacuate people from flooded areas on August 16 after the opening of a dam following heavy rains on the outskirts of Cochin, India. The Catholic Church has joined relief efforts as unprecedented floods and landslides continue to wreak havoc in India’s Kerala state, killing at least 75 people within a week. Photo: CNS/Sivaram V, Reuters

INDIAN priests from Kerala, the southern Indian state experiencing the worst floods in 100 years, could only pray from their Brisbane presbyteries as they watched their home state disappear under water.

“This is the worst I’ve heard in my whole life,” Yeronga parish priest and Kerala native Fr Josekutty Vadakkel said.

Heavy rains and landslides during India’s customary June-July monsoon season have destroyed people’s lives, caused entire cities to flood and completely filled at least 33 of the state’s dams.

Thousands were forced to flee their homes to reach safer places after incessant rain since early August filled Kerala’s 33 dams to the brim, forcing authorities fearing damage to the structures to release the water.

“It is extremely disturbing for me,” Fr Vadakkel said.

“The complete Kerala state is affected by flood and torrential rain.”

Fr Vadakkel is one of eight Carmelites of Mary Immaculate priests living in Brisbane.

When he checked a major Kerala news website on August 16, 30 people had reportedly died the previous day.

He said more than 160 people had been killed since August 8, and more than 350 people had died during Kerala’s monsoon season.

“Thousands of people are still feared stranded, awaiting relief and rescue,” Fr Vadakkel said.

Ucanews.com reported the heaviest rain and floods since 1924 left about 75,000 people in relief camps and caused damage worth $1.2 million to crops and properties.

Kochi International Airport, one of the main airports in Kerala, was to remain closed until August 26.

While Fr Vadakkel’s family was safe, the neighbouring community has lost phone coverage and electricity, and many of his fellow CMI communities are still waiting to be rescued.

“In some places the rescue mission couldn’t reach them due to the strong current,” Fr Vadakkel said.

He confirmed two of his fellow CMI priests who are serving in Rockhampton and are on holidays in Kerala were safe with his community.

Fr Vadakkel said the floods also left 35 nuns stranded in a church in Pariyaram-Chalakudy, one of the worst-hit regions in Kerala.

The nuns were on a retreat at the CMI’s Centre for Spiritual Realisation Church, a renewal centre of the order.

“They had to wait on the second floor of the centre for two days before all of them were helicopter rescued along with five priests,” Fr Vadakkel said.

Kerala church devastated by floods

Devastation: The Centre for Spiritual Realisation Church in Pariyaram-Chalakudy, Kerala, run by the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, was completely destroyed by floodwaters. The region was one of the worst-affected areas in Kerala. Photo: Supplied

Kerala church destroyed

Devastation: Pews were pushed to the side of the Centre for Spiritual Realisation Church in Pariyaram-Chalakudy, Kerala, following the floods. Photo: Supplied

He said his parish deacon and members of the parish finance council were planning on giving financial support to those affected by the floods.

“They said Yeronga was in a similar situation in 2011,” Fr Vaddakel said.

“They know how hard it is and how the situation would be in my state.

“And also a lot of parishioners offer me prayers and support.”

On Brisbane’s south, Beenleigh parish priest Fr Joseph Kanatt believes the situation in India will be worse in the coming months, even when the floods have disappeared.

“Of course it will be very bad,” Fr Kanatt, who has planned to return home in October after making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land next month, said.

“It will take a long time to repair.

“I don’t know how long it will take.”

Fr Kanatt belongs to the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament and is one of 10 priests from the order serving in Brisbane.

Despite watching his neighbouring Catholic school oval flood in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie last year, Fr Kanatt said what the people of India had experienced was worse.

He said the floods were a shock as Kerala had gone three months without rain early this year.

“When heavy water comes, it’s not like it comes here – it’s pouring, pouring rain,” Fr Kanatt said.

“Life for the people is very bad – they’ve lost properties, belongings, the water is inside the house, even the north in the small houses.

“The good thing is the people are working very hard to get the people safe.

“All the churches and monasteries are open for the people in the relief centre.

“Most of the churches and dioceses in India and Kerala are working very hard to help the people, supporting them with food, shelter, wherever the people are affected.”

Fr Kanatt said Catholics from India received a letter from Bishop Bosco Puthur, the leader of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy in Melbourne, which caters for the majority of Catholics from India.

There are two Syro-Malabar parish priests serving Indian Catholics in Brisbane.

Elderly woman carried through floods

Rescuers: Locals carry an elderly Indian woman through flooded waters. Photo: Supplied.

Bishop Puthur asked parishes within the eparchy, which includes 11 churches in Queensland, to dig deep and support the people of Kerala at all Masses held on August 19.

Burleigh Heads parish priest Fr Morgan Batt confirmed his assistant priest, Carmelite of Mary Immaculate priest Fr Saji George, was safe in Kerala, where he has been on leave for three weeks.

Fr Batt said he received a text message from Fr George on August 16 “saying he is okay”.

“He said he would make other arrangements – ‘no matter what, you can’t keep me from Australia’,” Fr Batt said.

“The parish is praying for him.”

Caritas Australia is directing people who wish to financially support people affected by the floods in Kerala to their Asia Regional Appeal.

“Caritas India has already conducted rapid needs assessments in the worst-affected districts of the state,” a Caritas spokesperson said.

“Emergency water and sanitation (WASH) activities are currently being developed to address need and reduce the potential for disease outbreaks. 

“Anyone able to provide financial assistance can do so via our Asia Regional Appeal.”

Donations can be sent to https://www.caritas.org.au/learn/emergency-response/asia-emergency-appeal.

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