As heavy rain continues unabated across Kerala, where flooding, landslides and bridge collapses have killed at least 67 people over the last week, the Kochi International Airport Wednesday announced that it will remain shut till Saturday after water flooded the runway and operational areas.
With the Meteorological department predicting heavy to very heavy rains across the state till August 18 and as flooding was reported at 33 dams and 44 rivers, the state disaster management authority has sounded an alert in all 14 districts. Officials said that 85,399 people have been moved to relief camps.
Flights at Kochi Airport, situated close to the Periyar river, were diverted to various airports even as airlines including IndiGo, Air India and SpiceJet announced the suspension of operations to and from Kochi. The decision was taken after shutters of the Idamalayar and Cheruthoni dams, part of the Idukki reservoir, were opened Tuesday evening to release excess water.
“Kochi Airport operations have been temporarily suspended till Saturday 2 pm as the inflow of water is still on a rising trend. We are working hard to drain out the stormwater,” an airport spokesperson said.
Every day, the Kochi airport handles 25,000 passengers and manages 1,650 flights in a week. “We are trying to drain the flooded area by removing a portion of the compound wall. But the situation has not improved,” sources said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan Wednesday over the situation in the state. “Centre stands firmly with the people of Kerala and is ready to provide any assistance needed,” Modi tweeted.
After a review meeting, Vijayan said the situation in Kerala was very alarming. “This is the first time in the history of Kerala that all dams have had to be opened and all rivers are overflowing. Several towns and villages have got isolated in the flood,” he said.
Vijayan also said that Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh have assured all help for the state and that the PM has taken a very positive approach towards the state’s demands.
He also said that the water level at the Mullaperiyar dam, which has reached 142 ft, is a matter of concern. “The state has urged the Tamil Nadu Government to ensure that the discharge from the dam should be equal to the inflow. This matter has been brought to the attention of the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister. As a result of these interventions, the discharge from the dam has now been made equal to the quantity of the inflow. Hence, a major concern about the water level at the Mullaperiyar dam will be over,’’ he said.
In a letter to his TN counterpart Edappadi K Palaniswami, Vijayan said: “Ideally the storage shouldn’t have been allowed to go beyond 140 feet and controlled releases ought to have started at 139 feet so as to avoid unnecessary inundation and destruction likely from uncontrolled and sudden discharges at 142 feet.”
A top official in Tamil Nadu said they are working closely with Kerala government. “District collectors of Theni and Idukki districts are working together. We will take all necessary steps to control the water level in Mullaperiyar dam,” the official said.
In Ernakulam district, at least 30,580 people have been moved to relief centres, after discharge from the Idukki reservoir was increased overnight to tackle the heavy inflow from catchment areas and the unexpected discharge from the Mullaperiyar dam, which is in Kerala, but controlled by Tamil Nadu.
The water level at the 123-year-old Mullaperiyar dam has reached 142 feet, which was fixed by the Supreme Court in 2014. Also, the Idamalayar dam is likely to release 10 lakh litres of water into the Periyar river, which may affect Ernakulam and parts of Thrissur district.
Officials at the State Disaster Management Authority said that 24 deaths were reported since Tuesday night, taking the death toll to 67 in the last week. In Malappuram district, nine persons were buried alive after a chunk of land collapsed on their house while at Munnar and Chirayankeezhu in Thiruvananthapuram, two persons died after wall collapses.
Officials said that none of the deaths reported Wednesday were directly related to the flooding caused by dam waters.
Presently, as many as 85,399 people are in relief camps compared to just around 30,000 on Tuesday. Scores of those evacuated have also moved to homes of relatives. Air force helicopters rescued 35 people stranded in a building in Pathanamthitta, where overflowing river Pampa has flooded several areas.
The Southern Naval Command Wednesday deployed 21 rescue and diving teams with Gemini boats across the state and as many as 81 people were rescued, many of whom were also provided food and shelter by setting up a rescue camp. Three columns of relief teams have been kept ready to meet any other requirement.
The Navy has also launched a search operation for three fishermen after their boat sank off the Kochi coast. Of the seven on board the vessel, four were rescued and airlifted while a search on for the others.