KOCHI/THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Heavy rains continued to batter Kerala, claiming the lives of 26 more people on Thursday as floods and landslides ravaged the region in what is being described as the worst disaster to visit the coastal state in living memory. Incessant rains since August 8 have so far killed 97 people, with more than 1.67 lakh being shifted to 1,165 relief camps across the state.
Most of Kerala is now flooded, with the situation worsening in several places, including Kochi, where backwaters threaten to breach their banks. Kochi airport remains under water and has now been closed till August 26. Trains from the state capital have been suspended and Kochi Metro operations drastically cut.
The Met office said rains were expected to continue till Saturday, although a statewide “red alert” — the highest level weather warning — was in place only till Thursday. PM Narendra Modi will visit Kerala on Friday evening and make an aerial survey of affected areas the next day.
CM Pinarayi Vijayan had sent an SOS to Modi and described the floods as the worst ever in the state. Authorities said the death toll was expected to rise as rescuers were struggling to reach far-flung locations where hundreds of people were trapped on terraces of homes, atop tall buildings and, in one case, in a marooned church.
The floods in Kerala are estimated to have damaged crops and properties worth over Rs 8,000 crore even as a fresh red alert was sounded in 13 of the 14 districts in the state. All nine flood-monitoring stations of the Central Water Commission have notified ‘extreme flood situation’. NGOs have joined 52 teams of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and NDRF in relief and rescue operations in flood-ravaged Kerala but it became evident on Thursday that the scale of the disaster was greater than the current efforts to cope with it.
Pathanamthitta district continued to remain the worst-affected with thousands of people stranded at their homes in Ranni, Aranmula and Kozhencherry towns. Water levels in several parts of Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts rose to as high as 20 feet, turning streets into deep lakes.
CM Pinarayi Vijayan spoke to PM Modi and other central leaders again on Thursday to request more help. Landslides were reported in Kannur, Wayanad, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Idukki districts. Munnar remained submerged for the third day while the Sabarimala shrine was cut off.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Thursday directed Mullaperiyar dam authorities to chalk out contingency plan to meet any crisis due to release of water and also consider reducing the water level to 139 feet from the present 142 feet. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Indu Malhotra asked Kerala to work harmoniously to get over the problem.
Earlier, advocate Manoj George had contended release of water from the dam “at the whims and fancies of Tamil Nadu for extraneous reasons” is a threat to the life of people living downstream.