Bengaluru: Torrential rain in Kerala has led to the deaths of 22 people so far, caused heavy landslides and flooding and even resulted in a brief suspension of operations at Kochi airport on Thursday.

The government was forced to open 22 dams, most of them after more than two decades. Low-lying areas in several districts were inundated, submerging hundreds of houses and other property, and forcing thousands of people to move into relief camps.

The development comes as the state was just limping back to normalcy after a return of monsoon rains in July created havoc, killing nearly 50 people and prompting 1.47 lakh to move to relief camps.

Arrival operations at the Cochin International Airport Ltd were suspended for almost two hours, following a rise in the water level in the Periyar river, close to the airport. Water is still flowing into the operational area of airport, local reports show, creating a possibility of it being closed on short notice.

“We are facing a big, serious disaster," said chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan at noon on Thursday. Vijayan, however, asked people not to panic.

In Idukki district, where most deaths occurred, the government was forced to take the tough call of opening the shutters of the nearly full Idukki-Cheruthoni dam for the first time in 26 years for a trial run on Thursday, causing flooding downstream.

The bigger concern is that the government has to open the dam on Friday morning in view of the nonstop rains and this would release 50,000 cubic metres of waters per second. The water can reach Aluva, 100km away where Kochi airport lies, within four hours.

The situation was similar in most reservoirs. “We would have to open almost all dams, a first in the history of the state," Vijayan said.

Personnel of the army, air force, navy, coast guard and the National Disaster Response Force, who were deployed in Malappuram, Calicut, Idukki, Wayanad, Alappuzha, and Ernakulam districts, rescued people from flooded houses with the help of boats as many roads and bridges were either waterlogged or completely washed away.

“We are facing an unprecedented situation. The entire revenue administration system shall be on full alert. All village and taluk offices will 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 unprecedented rains have also led to the postponement, for the first time, of the prestigious Nehru Trophy boat race, a major tourism attraction held on every 11 August that was scheduled to be inaugurated by Sachin Tendulkar on Saturday.

The rain has hit businesses too with commercial operations in many parts of northern Kerala coming to a halt on Thursday. Train services were partially affected, and almost all educational institutions remained shut in north and central Kerala.

The government has sent local administration minister and Malappuram native K.T. Jaleel to camp in north Kerala and monitor the relief operations for the week. Meanwhile, an emergency monitoring wing under additional chief secretary P.H. Kurian was opened in the capital, Thiruvananthapuram.

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