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More bodies found in flooded Kerala as toll climbs

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With 725,000 people crammed into relief camps, threat of disease looms

THRISSUR, INDIA Rescuers searched submerged villages in India's southern state of Kerala yesterday in a desperate hunt for survivors after floods killed at least 370 people and drove more than 700,000 from their homes.

Entire villages in Kerala have been swept away in the state's worst floods for a century.

Rescuers fear the death toll will rise as they reach areas almost entirely underwater.

Thousands remain trapped - often without food or safe water - in towns and villages cut off by the floods. But the rain has begun to ease in some areas, and a heavy rain forecast remains in place only for a few spots.

Nearly 725,000 people have taken shelter in relief camps, state government spokesman Subhash T.V. said yesterday.

As the water begins to recede, the authorities fear an outbreak of disease among the people crammed into the relief camps.

Mr Anil Vasudevan, who handles disaster management at the Kerala health department, said the authorities had isolated three people with chickenpox in one of the relief camps in Aluva town, about 250 km from state capital Thiruvananthapuram, Reuters reported.

Bedraggled survivors massing at evacuation centres have described desperate scenes after days without food or potable water.

"They were the scariest hours of our life," Inderjeet Kumar, 20, told AFP at a church doubling as a relief shelter in the hard-hit Thrissur district.

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

The overall death toll in the state since the start of the monsoon on May 29 had reached 370, the spokesman said.

Forty-six of them were found dead in just the last 24 hours.

BODIES

In the town of Thrissur in the northern part of the state, rescuers searching inundated houses discovered the bodies of those unable to escape as the floodwaters quickly rose.

"They didn't think that it would rise this high (up to 3m in some places) when the initial warnings were issued," said Mr Ashraf Ali, who is leading the search in the small town of Mala.

"Some of them later gave distress calls when the water rose high and fast," he told AFP at the scene yesterday as the carcases of cattle and other livestock floated past.

Among the dead was a mother and son whose home collapsed around them late on Saturday.

Another was a local man who volunteered for the search and rescue mission.

Thousands of army, navy and air force personnel have fanned out across Kerala.

Food, medicine and water has been dropped from helicopters in isolated areas.

Desperate villagers had to improvise as the floodwaters rose, using large kitchen pots as rafts to reach their stricken neighbours.

The floods have caused an estimated US$3 billion (S$4 billion) in damage but the bill is likely to rise as the scale of devastation becomes clearer.

At St Peter's Square in the Vatican yesterday, worshippers held aloft signs reading "Pray for Kerala", a state with a large Christian population.

"Our solidarity and the concrete support of the international community should not lack for our brothers," said Pope Francis.

Mercy Relief Singapore said in a press release yesterday that it would send a disaster response team to Kerala to aid in emergency relief operations. The team will depart Singapore today.

ACCIDENTS FIRE FLOOD