A total of 724,649 people are sheltering in 5,645 camps following "one of the worst ever floods" in Kerala that has claimed some 370 lives and caused widespread destruction, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Sunday.
"Our prime concern was to save lives. It appears it has been met," Vijayan told the media amid signs that the most destructive phase of the floods had ended and that water overflowing numerous towns and villages had finally begun to recede.
"The tragedy is perhaps one of the worst ever. Hence the loss caused is so huge. So we will accept all help," the Chief Minister said, revealing the extent of a tragedy which has not hit the state since 1924.
He said a total of 22,034 people had been rescued from flooded homes and other buildings with the help of various agencies, including the Navy and Air Force.
The death toll began on May 29 when Kerala got the first of the monsoon rains but the bulk of the fatalities were reported after August 9, when a tragedy of unprecedented proportion gripped the state after sluice gates of several rain-filled dams were opened.
Vijayan said the biggest challenge now was to provide adequate compensation to those who had lost virtually everything they had as the swollen rivers simply washed away countless homes and left a trail of destruction.
At the start of the press conference, the Chief Minister put the number of people in relief camps at 846,680 but scaled down the figure later.
He said the next task would be to help people get back to normal life, for which a plan was being worked out.
"Rehabilitation will be done by various agencies."
The Marxist leader pledged that all towns and cities hit by the floods would be cleaned on a war footing.