Kerala floods toll is 47, Cochin airport shut (Lead)

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Thiruvananthapuram : Unceasing heavy rains battered Kerala on Wednesday killing eight more people and taking the death toll to 47 since August 8, forcing Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to seek generous public contributions to battle the worst floods in nearly a century.

Of the 14 districts, as many as 11 including Idukki, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Malappuram, Pathanamthitta, Kannur and Ernakulam are on red alert, an official euphemism to mean that huge devastation was expected. The Cochin airport was shut till Saturday after flood waters entered the complex.

Thrissur, Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts are on orange alert, asking the authorities and people to be prepared as there was a higher likelihood of bad weather.

Those reported dead on Wednesday included a couple in Malappuram who were crushed after their house crumbled. Their six-year-old child is missing.

A person died in a Munnar lodge as it crashed. A 70-year-old woman near Pathanamthitta was electrocuted as her house was submerged. Landslides in Malappuram claimed lives too.

In a first, sluice gates of 33 dams across Kerala have been opened, following incessant rains since late Tuesday. More rains have been forecast till Saturday.

More and more people are pouring into relief camps, including those who had earlier returned to their homes in Ernakulam, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Wayanad districts.

The capital district on Wednesday witnessed heavy rains, submerging several low lying areas. Officials hurriedly opened 14 relief camps.

The famed tourist destination in Munnar has been closed for traffic, following flooding at the Old Munnar town.

The Sabarimala temple has warned pilgrims not to reach the shrine in view of the surging river waters in the vicinity.

Although special prayers were listed for Wednesday, the temple was closed to devotees as the river Pamba was in spate.

On Wednesday, Chief Minister Vijayan took the Independence Day salute despite rains here and urged everyone to contribute generously to overcome the challenge of the floods and its destruction.

The Idukki dam floodgates were reopened late on Tuesday as the water level in the Periyar river and its tributaries flowing through Ernakulam and Thrissur districts rose menacingly.

The shutters of the Mullaperiyar dam were opened at 2.35 a.m. after its water level crossed 140 feet.

People living in and around the dam were evacuated late on Tuesday.

The Cochin International Airport was on Wednesday closed till Saturday afternoon after water released from the Idukki dam flooded the area.

Airport Director A.C.K. Nair called the development "unprecedented".

"Why we decided to take this step is because since last night dams like Idukki, Mullaperiyar, Idamalayar have opened their shutters. The water released reaches the Periyar river and one of its tributaries flows close to the airport and it is overflowing, sending the waters to our operational area," said Nair.

He pointed out that with more rains predicted in the coming days, it was decided to close down the airport operations.

"Once the water recedes, it will take us 24 hours to clean up the area. Then only flights will resume. As of now we have decided to close down the airport till 2 p.m. of August 18," said Nair.

Cochin airport is one of the three international airports in the state, besides being the busiest.

The heaviest rains and floods since 1924 have caused massive destruction. Over 50,000 people are in relief camps and the damage to crops and properties is estimated to be over Rs 8,000 crore.