Kerala rain toll rises to 35; IMD sounds yellow alert for 11 districts
As the rains eased up in the worst-hit districts of Kerala, many people were shocked to discover no traces of their houses remained. Even as the death toll increased to 35 on Monday, there might still be stormy weather ahead in the southern state.
The India Meteorological Department issued yellow alerts in 11 districts effective Wednesday, a warning for possible severe weather.
In Kokkayar, a rescue team retrieved the body of three-year-old Sachu Sahul, while a search continues for two missing persons. In Kottayam, the death toll rose to 15 after 12 people were killed in two different landslides at Kavali and Plapalli, while three were swept away by flood waters. The St Mary’s church in Kavali saw heart-rending scenes as six people from the same family, including three children, were buried on Monday.
A video clip of a house being washed away in the floods went viral on social media, and its owner, KP Jebi, a private bus driver, said his 25 years’ of savings vanished within seconds. He and his family members had a miraculous escape minutes before the house was swept away by the flash flood.
“I am speechless. I have to start from the scratch,” Jebi said.
The floods and landslides left many residents of Mundakayam area in Idukki homeless.
Although the downpour subsided on Monday, it is still raining in the catchment areas of many dams, increasing water levels sharply. Authorities issued red alerts in 10 dams. The sluice gates of Kakki and Pamba dams in Pathanamthitta district were opened.
The pilgrimage to Sabarimala hill temple was halted due to a rise in water levels in Pamba and other rivers, said state revenue minister K Rajan after a review meeting in Pathanamthitta.
After opening the sluice gates of Kakki dam, water level in Pamba River will rise by at least 15cm, and it was not an ideal situation for the pilgrimage, the minister said.
Pilgrims, who arrived in Kottayam and Pathanamthitta from neighbouring states, were sent back by the authorities. As dam gates were opened, many areas of Kuttanad and Alapzuha saw heavy waterlogging.
Sluice gates of Asia’s biggest arch dam Idukki will be opened at 11 am on Tuesday, water resource minister Roshy Augustinesaid, after water level in the reservoir rose to 2,398 feet on Monday. It is designed to hold 2,403 feet of water. Idukki MP Dean Kuriakose has asked the state government to open a few sluice gates to ease pressure on the dam. Augustine is camping in the district to review the situation. Unlike the 2018 floods, when haphazard opening of dam gates aggravated the situation, the government is cautious this time.
“In view of the rising water levels of Idukki dam, it has been decided to open two of its shutters by 50 centimeters to let out 100 cubic metre per second (100 cumecs) of water flow.
“The decision has been taken to control the water level of the dam at 2,395-2,396 feet in the wake of a warning from the Central Meteorological Department that there would be heavy rains in the coming days. The decision was also based on past experience and was meant to allay people’s concerns,” the minister said in a state government release.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday chaired an emergency meeting in the state capital to review the situation. He constituted an expert committee to regulate the release of water from some of the dams filled to bursting.
The expert panel includes weather experts, hydrologists, structural engineers and climatologists. “We are closely monitoring the situation,” Vijayan said after the meeting.
Kerala might witness widespread rainfall, with isolated heavy downpour for three to four days starting from Wednesday due to a fresh spell of the easterly wave, the weather department predicted.
The government has opened more relief camps and advised people not to hurry back to their damaged homes. The state witnessed heavy rainfall on Friday and Saturday, which triggered flash floods and landslides at many places in Kottayam and Idukki districts. Many rain-ravaged areas turned sunny on Monday as affected people slowly pieced their lives together. At least 400 houses have been damaged in two districts, the state revenue department said.
The state received 412mm rain in the first 17 days of October, a whopping 84% of the usual 492mm of rain between October to December, according to the regional Met office in Thiruvananthapuram. Some areas like Peerumedu in the Idukki district received 297mm high intensity rainfall in the past two days, it said.
Meanwhile, a blame game started on Monday as the death toll rose to 35. Relief operations were delayed and warnings were not conveyed properly, opposition leader V D Satheesan of the Congress party said after visiting areas affected by landslides.
“In some of the affected areas, rescue teams reached a day after the mishap,” he said. “Despite strong warnings, how did it happen? We need an answer from the government.”
There was no delay on the part of the government, minister Rajan said, dismissing the complaints.