Vehicles are submerged in the rising waters of river Yamuna in New Delh. Picture: REUTERS
Vehicles are submerged in the rising waters of river Yamuna in New Delh. Picture: REUTERS

Kochi — India deployed thousands of soldiers and dozens of helicopters to rescue people marooned by the worst floods in a century in the southern state of Kerala, where the death toll of 186 people as of Saturday could rise fast as rains continue.

The weather office warned of more heavy "red" category rains on Saturday as tens of thousands of people were still stuck on the rooftops of houses and community centres.

Rescue workers have yet to reach many flooded areas.

People trapped without food, water and electricity worried about being left without help as their phone batteries were running out. An adviser to the state’s chief minister put the initial loss estimate at $4bn.

"There are seven families in this apartment now. We’re safe compared to many others, but we’re cut off," said James Joseph Moolakkaat, owner of an agricultural business who lives in a 10-storey building across the state’s Periyar River.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was taken by helicopter over inundated farmland and villages, promised more helicopters, boats and other equipment needed to expand the rescue operation.

He said the army, air force, navy and coast guard were assisting disaster relief agencies. A total 38 helicopters had been pressed into service with a number of aircraft and ships to ferry resources.

"More helicopters, boats and other equipment are being sought and Modi promised to provide all of these as fast as possible," Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.

According to a legislator in Pathanamthitta district, about 10,000 people were stranded and in grave danger unless they were rescued urgently.

Some people in relief camps were finding it difficult to access food and water. Videos on social media showed people breaking open shops to take food.

Vijayan has estimated that more than 200,000 people have been forced to move into relief camps since the monsoon season brought torrential rains three months ago. He put the death toll from floods and landslides since the start of the rainy season at 324.

One of his advisers, Prabha Varma, said 186 people had died since August 8, when the waters began to rise. He said the floods had destroyed 26,000 homes and damaged crops across as much as 40,000ha, with estimated losses of 277-billion rupees (R58bn).