Bengaluru: A year after its worst floods in recent history, Kerala is bracing for extremely heavy downpour. The state is on high alert after the Indian Meteorological Department on Wednesday predicted intense rainfall over the Western ghats region comprising Kerala, starting Thursday. The IMD has issued ‘red' alert for five Kerala districts, the colour code for the highest rainfall.

A red alert means ‘extremely heavy rainfall’ — more than 20 cm in 24 hours. The state faced severe floods exactly around the same time in July 2018, followed by a bigger one in August, all of which killed 400 people and wrecked damage of 31,000 crore. The floods displaced five million people, and destroyed the livelihoods of several others.

The IMD on Wednesday issued red alerts for hilly areas, including Idukki and Malappuram districts for 18 July; central Kerala districts Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Idukki for 19 July; central Kerala districts Idukki and Ernakulam for 20 July. The coastal areas are expected to receive heavy winds travelling as fast as 40 to 50 km per hour. As a protection, the state has banned fishermen from venturing out into the sea in certain vulnerable areas.

The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA), the nodal office for tackling disasters, has also warned of tides ranging as high as 3 to 3.2 metres in the northern coastal belts. The authority has sent directives to district collectors and concerned offices to be prepared for landslides and floods, and open rescue and relief camps if needed, according to the KSDMA.

The IMD on Wednesday also issued ‘orange alert’ and ‘yellow alert’ for most of the districts across Kerala, anticipating moderate to heavy rainfall, between 17 and 21 July.

With the benefit of hindsight from last year’s floods, the state had shaken up its flood response system in May by clearly spelling out roles and responsibilities of each department in a revised handbook of the KSDMA. For example, the state water board and electricity board are asked to notify district-level disaster monitoring cells about the status of dams and plans of controlling their outflow before 10 June. The document also listed the responsibilities of agencies in the availability of disaster response teams, the evacuation of tourists, among others. “We need to handle rain-related disasters with the same planning and precision as conducting an election," said Sekhar Kuriakose, head of KSDMA in an earlier interview to Mint.

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