Home >Politics >Policy >Relentless rain brings Kerala to a standstill, death toll rises above 100
Flood victims are evacuated to safer areas in Kozhikode in Kerala on Thursday. Photo: AP
Flood victims are evacuated to safer areas in Kozhikode in Kerala on Thursday. Photo: AP

Relentless rain brings Kerala to a standstill, death toll rises above 100

Transport, power, telecom connectivity severely hit, Kerala government reports damages worth 50,000 crore due to the floods

New Delhi/Bengaluru: Unprecedented rains have brought the coastal state of Kerala to a standstill, affecting lives across the state and causing damages exceeding 50,000 crore according to early assessments, a state government official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the focus at the moment is relief work and that the actual damage could be greater.

Heavy rains pounded Kerala for the second consecutive day on Thursday, raising the toll to more than 100 people in two days in the worst floods in a century for the state, according to reports. On 15 August, the state received 128.8mm rain against a normal rainfall of 14.5mm.

“We need to rebuild state and national highways of about 10,000km, which will cost about 10,000 crore. Besides, panchayat roads of 65,000km need to be rebuilt. There is immense loss to agriculture," said the official mentioned above.

The floods severely damaged areas along the banks of rivers Periyar, Pampa and Chalakudy, among others, which together flow through almost all central and southern districts. Most deaths and distress calls were in districts such as Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kollam and Wayanad.

The water level in Periyar, the longest river in the state, is expected to rise further on Thursday night, and the volume of water being released from Idukki Dam is likely to be increased. This is being done as the dam, which has a maximum capacity of 2,403 feet, was at 2,401.82 feet at the time of filing this story.

In its latest forecast, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted heavy to very heavy rains over Kerala for next three days, and has directed authorities to remain on alert. Except Trishur, Kannur and Kasargod districts, which have recorded normal rainfall, all other districts are witnessing excess rains. Idukki has recorded highest rainfall, in excess of 70%, while Kerala overall has recorded 37% excess rain so far this monsoon season.

“Heavy rains would continue over the next three days and subsequently reduce in intensity. Conditions are likely to improve after 19 August," said K. Sathi Devi, head, National Weather Forecasting Centre, IMD, Delhi.

The state’s transport and power infrastructure has been affected, with telecom connectivity also being affected in some areas.

Rail traffic has been suspended in two key locations, closing the link between north and south of Kerala. Flight safety watchdog Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said the Kochi international airport will remain closed till 26 August. DGCA also advised airlines not to overprice fares to the functional airports in the state—Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode—and to cap fares at 10,000. The regulator has also told airlines to let passengers reschedule their travel with no extra cost.

To avoid mishaps during the floods, more than 4,000 electricity transformers have been switched off since Wednesday night, according to the government, creating a power outage. The state’s maximum met power demand on 15 August came down to 2,677 megawatts (MW) as compared to 3,136MW on 1 July.

Power minister M.M. Mani said that the supply will be made normal as and when the waters recede.

“Electricity is a critical input in running telecom towers. Overall, the situation across the state is partly okay. However, there are pockets around the dam where there is no power and there telecom services have been impacted," an industry executive said requesting anonymity.

Telecom service providers announced quick relief measures. Bharti Airtel plans to deploy satellite communications system VSAT at five major relief centres in Kerala to provide free Wi-Fi and calling facility to people and extended bill payment dates. Reliance Jio, too, is extending a complimentary seven-day unlimited voice and data pack to all its subscribers in Kerala.

According to the Union government, 18 teams of National Disaster Response Force, nine columns and eight teams of Engineering Task Force of the army, 22 teams of the coast guard, 24 diving teams of the navy along with helicopters, aircraft, boats and equipment have been dispatched to assist Kerala in rescue and evacuation.

The funds required for rebuilding roads and bridges could put a significant financial strain on the state finances, Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac said.

Kerala has a revenue deficit of 12,860 crore, or 1.7% of the state gross domestic product (SGDP). The state government has budgeted its total expenditure to rise 14% to 1.3 trillion in 2018-19. Kerala is the 10th largest economy in India and contributes around 4.2% of India’s GDP. Its GSDP growth rate was around 7.4% at constant prices in 2016-17.

To mobilize resources, the cash-strapped state hiked liquor taxes by 0.5% to 3.5% for 100 days. This will help the state get an additional revenue of 230 crore.

More than 200,000 people were forced to move to safer areas, abandoning their work and flooded houses. Thousands are still feared stranded or missing. Apart from the rains, the water levels are also increasing because almost 33 dams that are at risk after reaching almost full capacity, have been opened in the state for the second day straight, a first in history. This includes the 119-year old masonry dam Mullaperiyar, which Kerala says could be at risk.

“For proper reservoir management in Mullaperiyar Dam, the cabinet secretary constituted a committee chaired by chairman, Central Water Commission and engineers-in-chief of Tamil Nadu and Kerala," the Union home ministry said in a statement.

Reservoirs in the state remain full despite shutters having been opened. According to information from Emergency Response Team of the state government, water level at the Malankara, Peechi, Idukki, Kakkayam and Kabani dams are near or marginally above the full reservoir level.

“The state is going through an extremely grave situation. Most of the villages are heavily affected. 58 dams of the KSEB (Kerala State Electricity Board) and 22 dams of the Water Resources Department have touched the maximum level. This is an extraordinary situation that has not happened in Kerala in the past," the Kerala state government said in a statement.

Around six trains were cancelled on 16 August, while nine trains were partially cancelled and one train was rescheduled and diverted. The Southern Railways has imposed a speed limit of 10-40 km per hour. Also, Kochi Metro operations were suspended early on Thursday morning, and resumed around at 4pm. The Metro services were free for the day.

“Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan requested people to cooperate with alerts given by the authorities in connection with the heavy downpour and floods in the state. The death tolls have been 256 since the monsoon started on May 29," the state government statement added.

The National Crisis Management Committee (NCMC) chaired by cabinet secretary P.K. Sinha met in New Delhi on Thursday to discuss scaling up assistance to the state.

“So far, 2,182 persons have been rescued, 968 stranded people have been evacuated through prompt action of NDRF (National Disaster Response Force), Army and Navy," the home ministry statement added.

Heavy rains also impacted Karnataka with seven districts--Kodagu, Udupi, Dakshina Kannada, Chikmagaluru, Hassan, Uttara Kannada, Shivamogga severely hit. These districts has received over 80-175 mm more rains than average, leading to floods, landslides and wide-scale damage. A total of 1755 people have been relocated to 29 relief camps in seven districts.

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