Thiruvananthapuram: Unprecedented scenes were played out in Kerala on Friday as the fury of floodwaters affected different parts of the state, with the impact being heaviest in the hilly Idukki district and in Ernakulam district where the waters from Idukki finally join the Arabian Sea.
Schools in half a dozen districts were ordered shut, tourist activities ground to a halt, a red alert was declared in Idukki district, and the death toll this week alone in the rain havoc touched 26.
Elsewhere in Idukki, at least three dozen tourists including several foreign nationals were stranded in a resort after the waters washed away the approach road to the resort from the main road.
Units of the Indian Army were deployed in the districts of Idukki, Kozhikode, Wayanad and Malappuram districts to assist the local administration in flood-relief and rescue work.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala called for a postponement of the upcoming Onam celebrations, Kerala’s biggest annual festival. Onam falls in the last week of this month.
For the first time in history, all shutters of the dam in Idukki were raised on Friday, the last two of them being raised without a warning, spewing out as much as 400,000 litres of water per second into the Periyar river.
As rain contained unabated through Friday, authorities were considering evacuating more water from the dam, perhaps as much as 700,000 litres per second.
The Idukki dam is formed by confining the waters through massive concrete walls at Cheruthoni, Idukki and Kulamavu, but there are shutters only at Cheruthoni. The shutters have been opened in 1981 and 1992, but Friday was the first time ever that all five shutters of the dam were opened.
A town under threat
Tens of thousands of people in Cheruthoni, the nearest downstream town to the Idukki dam were in shock as waters gushed past the river that flows through their town following the opening of all five shutters of the Idukki dam in Cheruthnoi.
By 2am, the bridge connecting Cheruthoni town to Kattapana was submerged, and the water threatened to engulf the bus stand area and some other parts of the town.
Many of the majestic palm trees that stood on the banks of the river were felled by the gushing waters, and some of the trees blocked the waters’ passage under the Cheruthoni bridge.
Dozens of tourists have been stranded in the Plum Judy resort at Pallivasal in Idukki district after rain waters and landslips washed away the road leading up to the resort.
A video sent out from the resort by one of the tourists sought help to get them out. The video was initially shared by some of the tourist taxi drivers who accompanied the resort’s guests, and shows one tourist appealing for evacuation efforts. “Many of us have to catch flights,” he is seen saying in the video.
The tourists are from different parts of India, as well as from countries including the Gulf countries and Singapore according to those stranded in the resort.
The resort itself had been in the news in the past, with allegations that it had not received the required permissions for construction. Later, it had begun operations after getting approval from the court.
No change in temple ritual
Flood waters inundated different parts of Aluva town, close to the state’s commercial capital, Kochi, but the annual ‘Vavu Bali’ ritual at the temple would be held according to schedule, said the temple authorities in Aluva.
The Vavu Bali is scheduled for Saturday, and rescue teams along with police will be deployed for the benefit of pilgrims.
In New Delhi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured the state that the federal government all possible assistance to tackle the flood situation.
Rajnath Singh made the assurance to a group of MPs from Kerala who met him on Friday. The Deputy Home Minister, Kiren Rijiju, had recently visited some of the flood-affected areas in Kerala.