Kerala, Aug 10, 2018 : Torrential rains triggered by the south-west monsoon left a trail of destruction across Kerala on Friday, forcing authorities to open all five shutters of the Cheruthoni dam in Idukki for the first time in 40 years, posing a flood threat to many areas downstream, including port city Kochi.
The toll has risen to 29, while at least four people were missing. Idukki and Wayanad districts, where heavy rains continued for the second day and showed no signs of stopping, were put on high alert. So was Ernakulam district as the released dam water is expected to reach Aluva on Kochi’s outskirts by Friday night.
The state disaster management authority has announced a red alert for extremely heavy rainfall in Wayanad district till August 14, in Idukki till August 13 and in Alappuzha, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Palakkad, Malappuram and Kozhikode till August 11.
According to a revenue department official, it was for the first time that gates in 24 dams were opened to release excess water and casualties restricted to some extent due to better planning. State revenue minister E Chandrasekharan said that the army, navy, air force and National Disaster Relief Force personnel were pressed into service in affected areas and their timely deployment has helped save many lives.
“Operation Madad’ has been launched by Navy to assist the state which is witnessing an unprecedented flood. Besides small search vessels, helicopters were also pressed into service. Navy hospital is also ready to meet any eventuality,” the Kochi-based southern naval command said in a statement.
Over 10,000 people living along the along the banks of Periyar river, which is spate, have been shifted to safer places while schools and offices have been closed in Kochi city and Ernakulam district.
“I never witnessed such water levels in my life. Thanks to preparedness, human casualties was restricted to an extent. But at the same time, we have to take a lesson from such disasters. We have to check river and forest encroachment in a big way,” said Kannan Nair, a retired headmaster from Aluva, who was shifted to a relief camp in the morning.
The state’s second largest river after Bharatapuzha, Periyar originates from the Western Ghats and flows through the thickly-populated areas of Kochi before merging with the Arabian Sea. It is also the major source of drinking water to many areas including Kochi, which may go thirsty as sludge from the Idukki and Idamalayar dams crept into the water-pumping station in Aluva.
Meanwhile, the famed Nehru Trophy Boat Race, due to be held on August 11 in Alappuzha, has also been postponed.
However, in a spell of relief, rains in the rest of the flood-ravaged state abated on Friday, according to the Met department.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who was closely monitoring the situation from his office in Thiruvananthapuram and coordinating with the various district authorities, described the situation as “very grim”. Holding an emergency meeting with senior officials of the police and revenue departments on Friday morning – the second in as many days – to take stock of the devastation, he will undertake an aerial survey of the affected areas on Saturday, his office said.
He also talked to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who assured him of all possible assistance. The Union Minister is also slated to visit the state on Sunday and make an aerial survey of the situation.
Vijayan has also appealed to the people to contribute to the chief minister’s relief fund.
In Idukki, 57 tourists, including 24 foreigners from Russia, Saudi Arabia and other countries, who were stranded in their resort in Munnar since Wednesday as a landslide damaged the approach road, have been rescued.
With all the five floodgates of the Idukki dam - Asia’s biggest arch dam - opened, the gushing water rushing downhill has inundated standing crops and property, especially in Cheruthoni town, whose residents have been evacuated to safer places.
According to officials, the water level in Idukki dam, whose level is 2,403 feet, crossed 2,399 feet on Thursday, leading to one of the gates being opened after a gap of 26 years. As the level reached 2,401 feet on Friday morning, authorities were forced to open two more gates and with heavy rains continuing unabated in and around the catchment area, the remaining two gates were also opened.
Kerala Power Minister M.M. Mani, who hails from Idukki, told the media there that the decision to open more gates was taken to prevent the water level from reaching its full strength of 2,403 feet, according to an IANS report.
“This is not going to create any issue as we are soon planning to close down the shutters. We are confident that things can be controlled,” he added.