MUMBAI, India – Flooding in southwestern India is creating a “grim” situation, according to the local bishop.

Over 25,000 people have been evacuated from parts of Karnataka State after heavy rains caused massive flooding. At least five people have been reported killed due to the flooding.

Bishop Derek Fernandes of Belgaum has been visiting the Diocese of Karwar, where he is also Apostolic Administrator.

He said the journey from Belgaum to Karwar – usually 3 ½ hours – took 32 hours.

“The situation is very grim,” he told Crux. “Many villages are marooned. We go by boat to help them.”

The bishop said the Society of St. Vincent DePaul is supplying food for around 2,000 people affected by the flooding. The Catholic social services is providing medical services.

Although Karnataka state has even fewer Christians than India as a whole, Karwar has a larger Christian population – with around 3 percent of the population alone being Catholic.

“The social services of the Catholic Church in Karwar has rushed all emergency relief measures to help the people,” Fernandes said. “The Catholic Church is in the forefront of saving the lives and providing all immediate relief.”

The bishop told Crux the diocese has opened the doors of Catholic institutions to offer shelter for those affected by the flooding.

“Roads have been washed away, so reaching the villages are very difficult. But our Catholic social services are traveling by boats or any way to bring relief to our suffering people, without any thought of caste or creed. The Catholic Church suffers with the sufferings of the people,” he said.

“The situation is very bad, and the sufferings of the people are tremendous. The poorest people are most affected. They have lost everything; the little that they owned has been washed away by the floods. Houses submerged or washed away, livestock, crops, their possessions all gone,” he explained.

“Our teams went to different parts of the diocese,” Fernandes said, noting the main roads have been cut off.

“The trauma counselors from the diocesan social service are there and plans are afoot to prepare ration bundles to give to the people as they leave the temporary housing place and go to their villages,” he continued.

The bishop said the plans to repair housing will begin “when the present situation eases.”

“The rains are showing signs of relenting. The reservoirs are getting water in excess which is causing great concern,” he added.

Heavy rains are forecast for Karnataka over the weekend. The states of Kerala, Maharashtra, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan are also being affected.

Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, expressed his sorrow for the loss of lives, damage and devastation caused by the floods in a statement to Crux.

“The Catholic Church is in heartfelt solidarity with all those affected by the floods, which have claimed lives and caused immense damage. The Catholic Church is in solidarity with the people in distress, in their sufferings and tragic difficulties. We will coordinate efforts and reach out and help in their relief rehabilitation,” Gracias said.

“I will contact Caritas India for organised relief and emergency rescue efforts besides. The Catholic Church will also send teams of medical personnel for the needs of victims and survivors,” the cardinal continued.

Gracias also told Crux he planned on meeting all the bishops in the affected area to “organise assistance, assess the damage done and coordinate relief,” while commending Fernandes for overseeing rescue and relief efforts in Karwar and Belgaum.

Fernandes is already thinking about what lies ahead for his local Church.

“The floods have left death, devastation and a bleak future,” the bishop said.

“Besides, after the flooding, the epidemics will follow, giving rise to serious medical issues. We will take concrete measures for the relief and rehabilitation of flood victims. Our people … their sufferings are unimaginable.”

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