NEW DELHI - Top Indian environment experts who predicted devastating floods would hit Kerala state said Tuesday their warnings went unheeded by politicians eager to fast-track money-making projects.

The southern state has been battered by the worst floods in almost a century that have killed more than 410 people since the monsoon started in June.

Kerala is criss-crossed by 44 rivers and famed for its backwaters, a chain of brackish lagoons and lakes that run parallel to the Arabian Sea - creating an environmentally sensitive region with many unique species of plants and animals.

Muralee Thummarukudy, a United Nations disaster response expert, and ecologist Madhav Gadgil, warned in reports back as far as 2011 that a mega-monsoon was inevitable and that the state was ill-prepared.

Critics say Kerala and the national government have ignored environmental concerns as they push power plants and coal mines, hotel resorts and new housing.

Lakes and wetlands that soak up floods have disappeared, and new concrete buildings concentrate excess water in certain areas and make it harder to drain away.

Thummarukudy predicted a flood disaster in Kerala in a 2013 article that called for changes in land use. Thousands of lives were lost in a 1924 flood in the region and Thummarukudy said repeats often come 50 or 100 years later.

"Change in land use planning is always difficult in every country because both private property rights and large amounts of money are involved. So I was not surprised that such changes were not made," he told AFP. "I am very sad that my predictions about floods in Kerala came true with tragic loss of life."

Tourists and trouble

In recent years, Kerala governments have aggressively promoted the state's palm tree-lined beaches and lush plantations to draw international tourists, and foreign arrivals doubled in 10 years to hit more than a million in 2017. But the rush for revenue has led to violations of coastal planning regulations.

Ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who suggested a ban on new industrial and mining activities in Kerala in a 2011 report, said man-made problems had played a key role in the disaster.

But political and corporate lobbying meant the recommendations were ignored and resorts for the wealthy have mushroomed along coasts and rivers. "Unfortunately, our state governments are in collusion with vested interests that do not want any environmental laws to be implemented," Gadgil told AFP. "Our recommendations would have been accepted in any law-abiding society. But we have a lawless society and extremely poor governance." A senior official in Kerala's environment and climate change department downplayed the criticism.

"It is wrong to say we have not done enough. We started eco-restoration of wetlands and we have also banned plastic," she told AFP, asking not to be named. "We are doing our best. It is nature's fury, you cannot point blame on anyone."

Thousands of kilometres of Kerala roads have been swept away by landslides and flooding and tens of thousands of houses destroyed or damaged.

The gates of dams built in the past three decades have had to be opened to prevent overflowing and that compounded flooding estimated to have left more than $3 billion of damage - a bill expected to rise significantly.

The flooding in Kerala is reminiscent of a similar disaster in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand where some 6,000 people died in 2013. Chaotic planning was again seen as partly to blame.

Across India, protests have been mounting against new industries that local residents say are polluting the environment and making them sick.

In May, a copper plant in Tamil Nadu state was shut after protests by residents, in which 13 people died, accusing a mining company of flouting environmental standards.

One million pack India flood relief camps

More than one million people have swarmed relief camps in India's Kerala state to escape devastating monsoon floods that have killed more than 410 people, officials said Tuesday as a huge international aid operation gathered pace.

People are flocking to camps as the scale of the desolation is revealed by receding waters and the military rescues more people each day.

The Kerala government said 1,028,000 people are now in about 3,200 relief camps across the southern state. Officials said six more bodies were found Monday, taking the death toll to more than 410 since the monsoon started in June.

Kerala authorities say they are desperate for funds and the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday promised $100 million in aid, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced after telephone talks with UAE leaders.

The amount is more than the $97 million so far promised by India's central government. Vijayan demanded a $375 million package from the government, saying the state must confront more than $3 billion in devastation.

Millions of dollars in donations have poured into Kerala from the rest of India and abroad in recent days. Other state governments have promised more than $50 million while ministers and company chiefs have publicly vowed to give a month's salary.

Desperate journey

Even Supreme Court judges have donated $360 each while the British-based Sikh group Khalsa Aid International has set up its own relief camp in Kochi, Kerala's main city, to provide meals for 3,000 people a day.

The rescue operation is now focused on the worst-hit areas such as Chengannur, where more than 60 centimetres (two feet) of water blocked many roads as more rain fell Tuesday.

Army teams said several thousand people in the town remained in homes inundated by 10 days of torrential downpours.

Relief teams reached the house of retired army officer K.G. Pillai, who said up to 2.4 metres (eight feet) of water had engulfed the house where his family had lived since 1952.

"In the past there has never been more than one foot of floods and people are not used to this," he said.

"Around 26 people moved into the first floor of our home" to take refuge, he said.

In nearby Pandanad, locals said there was a desperate shortage of drinking water and dry clothes and people implored drivers of passing vehicles for supplies.

Next to an inundated road, army major Jingy Joseph sat barefoot with her four-year-old daughter Angelina, gazing at an overflowing river.

"My daughter is safe - and that is all that matters," Joseph told AFP. She was on duty in Punjab when her parents' house, where her daughter was staying, was inundated last week.

"I lost all contact with them for around four days and literally had to make an appeal on Facebook for any update," she added.

Her video became one of the most widely shared distress appeals on Indian social media. "I can talk about it now but they were the most anxious hours. I was strong but broke when I heard my daughter was crying for milk and water at the time," Joseph added. She took a train ride and a flight and travelled several hours in a car to reach her parents and move them to a safe place.