Kerala flood situation worsens as dams release water (Roundup)

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Idukki/Thiruvananthapuram : The flood situation in Kerala worsened on Friday as all the five gates of the Idukki hydel project were opened and shutters of over two dozen dams were lifted, inundating various parts of the state which reeled under the unprecedented downpour in decades. The floods have claimed 27 lives so far.

Army was deployed in the worst-affected districts of Idukki, Erankulam, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad and Kannur and thousands of people were evacuated to safe places along the banks of the rivers as rain alert has been sounded in many districts till Monday.

While one shutter of the Cheruthoni dam of the Idukki hydel project was opened on Thursday, two more were lifted this morning and another by the afternoon as the water level reached 2,400 feet against its full capacity of 2,403 feet. The gates of the Cheruthoni dam have been opened after 26 years.

With all the five floodgates of the Idukki dam opened, water is rushing down the Periyar river causing huge loss to crops and properties. The worst affected is the Cheruthoni town, located close to the dam. The situation worsened with the shutters of the Idamalayar dam also being opened adding to the swelling of the river.

Since the dam was last opened in 1992, a lot of encroachment have taken place across the banks of the river. Agricultural activities and houses have come up in the area.

Rains in the rest of the flood-ravaged state have come down, a Met official said.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is closely monitoring the situation after cancelling all his engagements. He is staying put in his office in Thiruvananthapuram, coordinating with the various district authorities and the Kerala State Electricity Board, which controls the dam. He appealed to the people to avoid travel to the hilly areas in the dark.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who will be visiting the state to the worst-affected areas, talked to Vijayan on telephone. Both took stock of the situation as the Centre assured the state of all possible assistance.

Around 200 families who live on the sides of the river have already been evacuated to safety as a matter of abundant caution.

The waters are set to reach parts of Ernakulam and Thrissur districts and authorities in these two districts are on a high alert. The authorities have decided to keep open all the five floodgates of the Idukki dam for a specified period of time.

The army is already involved in rescue-relief and damage control exercises in several districts in the state.
Nine columns of personnel have been deployed in rescue and rehabilitation work and reaching food to the needy.

There were some anxious moments for around 60 tourists, including foreigners who were holed up at a resort near Idukki as the roads to the resort were damaged following a landslide.

State Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran wrote on Facebook that all the tourists have been rescued with help from army personnel.

While the rains continued in Idukki, the remaining districts of Malappuram, Kozhikode, Palakkad and parts of Kannur , which received heavy rains on Wednesday and Thursday heaved a sigh of relief on Friday as the downpour reduced in intensity.

According to the Kerala government, as on Friday evening over 23,000 people have been put up in 254 relief camps.

The total death toll on account of the heavy rains that stood at 24 yesterday went up with three more deaths reported on Friday.

Kerala Power Minister M.M. Mani, who hails from Idukki, told the media there that the decision to open more shutters of the Idamalayar dam was taken to prevent the water level from reaching its full strength of 2,403 feet.

Mani also said: "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."

State Revenue Minister E. Chandrasekheran, who is camping in Ernakulam and coordinating the activities, said five teams of the army were taking part in disaster management exercise in Idukki, Wayanad, Kozhikode and Malappuram.

"The central team is also here to assess the damages that were caused by the rains in July. Now that they are witness to the current situation -- widespread destruction of crops and property, we are hopeful that they will be able to speed up their reports," said Chandrasekheran.