In a symbolic ceremony, Caritas partners have handed over the keys to the first permanent home for tsunami survivors in Kerala, Southern India. The house is the first of 750 houses that will be built by Caritas member Ernakulam Social Service Society. The local government estimates that 3000 homes were destroyed in the Boxing Day tsunami. The scheme is working against the clock as Kerala's monsoon season will start in June and so the local authorities have worked together with Caritas to approve guidelines for the housing programme quickly. It is hoped that the houses will be finished within the next three months. Many villagers turned up to the ceremony near Quilon to watch the first occupant, mother of two Sarala, move into the house with her daughter, son and his family. "It is much nicer than our old house," she said, smiling. After losing her husband a few years ago, Sarala then lost everything she owned in the tsunami. She was chosen as the first person to receive their home by Caritas as she was in urgent need. The houses have been built by a local cooperative of skilled workmen called the Self-help Group which tendered for the work against construction companies. "This was not a normal job for us, we really wanted to help the tsunami affected people, said James Kuruppasserry, the leader of the Self-help Group. "It took us 27 days to complete the house and the quality of the home is excellent, the foundation is strong enough for a first and second floor." The single storey houses have an internal bathroom with toilet and are set in plots of 160 square metres allowing plenty of space for Keralan family life which traditionally mostly takes place outside. Caritas is also planning to build 10,000 houses in neighbouring Tamil Nadu although progress is slow as government guidelines mean that new land has o be found to build replacement houses. Gertrude Tauber, the Caritas architect overseeing the house construction project said: "According to the government guidelines, people should live at least 500 metres from the sea or five metres above sea level. If the government would give us a topographical map of the coastal area of Tamil Nadu, everybody could easily see that one has to move several kilometres away from the sea to reach five metres above sea level, there is almost no land available 500 metres from the sea."
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