Death toll in Kerala rains rises to 67, Kochi airport shut till Saturday
Kerala continued to reel under flood fury on Wednesday as surging waters led to the Cochin international airport being shut till Saturday, hit rail services and threatened relief camps, affected power and drinking water supply in various areas and took the toll to 67.
A red alert was sounded in 12 out 14 districts following heavy rainfall and opening of shutters of 35 dams while more people were shifted to relief camps including 23,000 in Ernakulam. All educational institutions across the state were ordered closed on Thursday.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who discussed the situation with prime minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Rajnath Singh, sought more army and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams in the state and was assured of all help.
As Mullaperiyar dam in worst-affected Idukki, which serves Tamil Nadu, again became an issue between the two states with the neighbouring state refusing to take more water from the dam which was full to its capacity of 142 feet, Vijayan raised the issue with Singh after his talks with his Tamil Nadu counterpart EK Palaniswami proved abortive.
Following the home minister’s intervention, Tamil Nadu agrees to draw more water from Mullaperiyar.
As floods created havoc across the state, it was the first time the Cochin International Airport Limited (CIAL) was closed for four days after the area was inundated. Operations of international and domestic flights were earlier suspended till 2pm on Wednesday but authorities decided to shut the airport till 2pm on Saturday after reviewing the worsening situation.
“Operations were suspended after water reached the runaway in the early hours of Wednesday. Most of the incoming flights are diverted to Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikkode airports,” CIAL director ACK Nair said.
The airport is situated near the banks of the swollen Periyar river and water from most of the dams in the upper reaches of Idukki is flowing into the river that later merges with the Arabia Sea. Shutters of Idamlayar, Idukki and Mullaperiyar dams were opened on Tuesday night to release excess water from the reservoirs. Sluice gates of 33 dams have now been opened across the state.
The arrival operations were suspended for two hours on August 9 in the view of a possible inundation in the airport area.
All Air India express flights from Cochin will operate from Thiruvananthapuram, a spokesman of the national carrier said.
Train services were disrupted at many places and rail service between Thiruvananthapuram and Kanyakumari was suspended after main bridges were swept away in the gushing waters. Railway officials said all trains in the state will run at a speed of 30kmph to avoid accidents.
Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor who visited a temporary relief shelter for displaced people in the state capital said an 80-year-old lady, “whose daughter insists she’s 85”, told him says she has never seen so much rain in Thiruvananthapuram
Kerala sought more relief and help from the army and the NDRF. The toll in the worst natural disaster in the state could rise further with several people missing since Tuesday night.
Many areas were marooned and landslides reported in Kannur, Wayanad and Kozhikode districts. The state government asked visitors to avoid hilly areas as the popular hill station of Munnar was cut off from the rest of Kerala.
People were also asked to avoid the Sabarimala hill shrine in Pathanamthitta district as the water level in the nearby rain-fed Pampa River was rising.
The weather department has issued a red alert for Wayanad, Kozhikode, Kannur, Kasaragod, Malappuram, Palakkad, Idukki and Ernakulam districts till Thursday. The worst-affected Idukki and Wayanad districts received 80mm of rainfall in the last 24 hours, a spokesperson of the regional office of the meteorological department said.
Prime minister Modi mentioned the flood-hit state of Kerala in his address to the nation on the 72nd Independence Day.
“Many parts of the nation witnessed a good monsoon but at the same time parts of India have been affected by flooding. My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives due to floods in various parts of India,” Modi said.
In his Independence Day speech in Thiruvanthapuram amid pouring rain, Vijayan said that the state “is going through a serious situation” and asked everyone to cooperate with the government to deal with the “unprecedented situation”.
“We are celebrating this year’s Independence Day when the floods have ravaged the state. It is a disaster that has never been witnessed in the state. But if all of us join hands, we will be able to handle any disaster.”
He said good work by armed forces and NDRF personnel have helped save many lives, while the “state has shown the world that it can overcome the worst situations through commitment and hard work”.
Vijayan also urged people to contribute generously to the Chief Minister Distress Relief Fund in the wake of the state’s worst flood disaster in 94 years.