Kerala rains: 20 people killed so far, Kochi airport stops flight arrivals

If the Idukki dam is opened in full, water can reach Aluva, where Kochi airport lies, in four hours. Photo: PTI

If the Idukki dam is opened in full, water can reach Aluva, where Kochi airport lies, in four hours. Photo: PTI

Bengaluru: Kerala is on the edge following an unprecedented rise in rainfall over the last 24 hours that has caused heavy landslides and flooding, killing 20 people so far. The government is forced to open almost 22 small and big dams in the state, most of them after more than two decades, if not for the first time in history. As a measure of precaution, Kerala’s Kochi airport has stopped arrival operations.

“We are facing a big, serious disaster,” said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan at a press meet on Thursday noon. He asked people not to panic.

The exponential increase in water levels in the last 24 hours has threatened the safety of dams, leaving the government with a tough choice of opening them but risking increase of water levels in downstream regions.

“We would have to open almost all dams, a first in the history of the state,” Vijayan said.

“Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard services are requested. Army columns have been moved to Malappuram, Calicut, Idukki and Wayanad districts. The National Disaster Response force is in Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Calicut districts, two other are on their way. The government has requested six more units. Disaster relief materials are being flown in from Bengaluru now,” Vijayan added.

“We are facing an unprecedented situation. The entire revenue administration system shall be on full alert. All village and taluk offices be open at the earliest and remain as such until further orders. No leave to be allowed,” said a press statement from Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan’s office.

The crisis on the full display in Idukki, where most deaths occurred. For the first time in 26 years, a nearly full Idukki-Cheruthoni dam’s shutters have been opened for a trial run. If opened fully, the water can reach Aluva, where Kochi airport lies, in four hours. If not opened, the dam’s safety is threatened.

In view of non-stop rainfall, Kerala has also postponed the prestigious Nehru Trophy boat race, scheduled to be inaugurated by Sachin Tendulkar on Saturday. This is probably the first time the Nehru Trophy boat race, which begins every year in the midst of rains on 11 August, is being postponed.