Kochi: Kerala on Wednesday sent an SOS to the Centre to press Tamil Nadu to lower the water level in Mullaperiyar dam, blaming it for delaying the opening of the shutters till the storage level touched the contentious 142 ft, on a day 29 people died in the devastation wrought by rains across 14 districts, all of which are now on red alert.
The state was particularly perturbed by the rising water level in the more-then-a-century-old Mullaperiyar, in Idukki, operated by Tamil Nadu on a long-term lease.
This is the first time the Kochi Airport is being closed for four days.
“Operations were suspended after water reached the runway. Most of the incoming flights were diverted to either Thiruvananthapuram or Kozhikkode airports,” CIAL director ACK Nair said.
Train services were disrupted at many places and service between Thiruvananthapuram and Kanyakumari was suspended after main bridges were swept away in the gushing waters.
Cochin International Airport, the country’s fourth largest in international passenger traffic, shut its operations till Saturday as the runway remained flooded despite 24-hour operations to drain out the water.
The government also asked scheduled domestic airlines to reschedule their flights to and from Cochin to Trivandrum and Calicut airports till the time the situation at Cochin airport returns to normal.
The State Disaster Management Authority, the State police, the Defence forces and paramilitaries battled to pull out people from swollen river banks and others caught in landslides, mudslides, breaches on bridges and dam spills.
The death toll mounted to 67 in rain havoc this season, most of them being crushed under debris after landslides.
Train services were disrupted at many places and service between Thiruvananthapuram and Kanyakumari was suspended after main bridges were swept away in the gushing waters. Railway officials said all trains in the state will run at a speed of 30kmph to avoid any mishap.
The state government has asked visitors to avoid hilly areas as the popular hill station of Munnar was cut off.
Out of 39 major dams, 33 have opened their shutters. A Cochin airport official said they hoped that operations would return to normal by Sunday if the flood situation improves.
The airport handles 1,460 flights a week, and nearly 900 flights stand to get affected by the closure. CIAL asked all airlines to cancel their flights until the situation improves.
The airport lies near the banks of the swollen Periyar and water from most of the dams in the upper reaches of Idukki is flowing into the vast network that drains into the Arabian Sea.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor spoke to Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha and expressed concern about Kochi-bound international flights being diverted to Mumbai.
He tweeted that it was causing great inconvenience to Keralites travelling home and suggested diverting them to Thiruvananthapuram instead or other nearby airports. In Idukki, the district administration banned tourists and asked reporters to leave Cheruthoni where they are stationed, citing safety concerns.
The Government has sought help from all quarters to deal with the “unprecedented situation”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned the flood situation in his address to the nation on 72nd Independence Day pledging all support to the affected. “Many parts of the nation witnessed a good monsoon but at the same time parts of India have been affected by flooding. My thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives,” he said.
Fresh landslips were reported in Kannur, Wayanad and Kozhikode districts. The worst-affected Idukki and Wayanad districts received 80mm of rainfall in the last 24 hours, a spokesperson of the regional office of the meteorological department said. Indications are the heavy rains will continue for some more days.
Mr Vijayan also called on Governor P Sathasivam and apprised him of the situation.
Eight members of a family died in Malappuram after their house collapsed in a landslide. Idukki and Wayanad reported three casualties each. There were more than 1 lakh people, cramped in relief camps.
In Pathanamthitta, the Air Force airlifted 35 people stranded on a rooftop. The authorities asked the pilgrims not to go to the hill shrine of Sabarimala.
“The rain will continue for the next four days and we all need to be careful. We are witnessing something that has never happened before in the history of Kerala,” says Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.