Kerala toll reaches 87, massive rescue operation underway

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Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 16 (IANS) Even as the deadly deluge in Kerala continued to take a toll of life and property across the state — with the number of deaths rising to 87 on Thursday — the Centre has deployed all three wings of the armed forces in a massive rescue operation that is currently underway.

Till Thursday afternoon, 20 fresh deaths — mostly from Malappuram, Kozhikode, Palakkad and Thrissur — were added to the toll that has been rising since August 8.

With continuous rain forecast till Saturday, the Centre sanctioned more men and materials, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told the media, after a conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other central leaders.

“By noon, 10 helicopters will join the existing fleet of 10 already involved in the massive rescue operation in our state. Apart from this, the Indian Air Force and Navy will send four helicopters each.

“They will be joined by 40 more teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and a team of marine commandos, who will reach today and begin their work,” Vijayan said.

“Residents in Alwaye, Chalakudy and parts of Ernakulam should listen to the people engaged in rescue operations as things can get worse during the day as the Periyar river is going to carry more water.

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“As a result, those living in the area up to one kilometre on either side of Periyar and its tributaries in these places should be on high alert,” he said.

With rain still pouring down heavily, especially in the higher reaches of the Western Ghats where most of the dams are situated, Vijayan added that the special forces personnel deployed would speed up rescue and relief operations across the state.

“Today there are 52 different teams of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and NDRF present. With additional teams coming, we feel rescue operations would be speeded up,” Vijayan said.

Pathanamthitta district in central Kerala continued to be the worst affected over the last 24 hours as thousands of people — including students, women and the aged — trapped in their homes in the towns of Ranni, Aranmula and Kozhencherry.

Around 30 people from Pathanamthitta were air-lifted earlier on Thursday and brought to the state capital.

All state TV channels are now being flooded with SOS messages with video clips from people who are waiting to be rescued and most of these calls are coming from Pathanamthitta and nearby areas.

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Various media WhatsApp groups, including Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s, have been flooded with SOS messages from Pathanamthitta, seeking urgent help.

Meanwhile, fishing boats from Kollam reached the flooded areas as the rescue operation with the aid of defence personnel continued.

“We have requested more fishing boats and fishermen who have experience in operating the boats. They have all started arriving in the Pathanamthitta and Chengannur areas,” the Chief Minister said.

Parts of Ernakulam and Thrissur have been facing tough times with water from the dams in Idukki district reaching the Periyar river and its tributaries late on Wednesday.

Traffic on the national highway between Ernakulam and Thrissur is being regulated since last night. Train operations between Ernakulam and Angamaly have also been stopped and, at Thiruvananthapuram railway station, tickets are not being issued.

All educational institutions were closed on Thursday.

The situation in the capital district, however, improved on Thursday as there was less rain. Water that had flooded low-lying areas also receded.

The current crisis took a turn for the worse when, in a first, the sluices of 33 dams across Kerala were opened on Tuesday following incessant rains in the higher reaches of the ghats.

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The famed tourist destination of Munnar continued to be in a bad shape, an official said. The Sabarimala temple also remained cut off by the river Pamba that is in spate.

The hilly district of Wayanad, connected to Kannur and Kozhikode through a hill highway, has also been badly hit with the overflowing Banasura Sagar dam waters creating havoc. Several landslides were reported in the area.

In Wayanad alone, more than 20,000 people have been put up in relief camps, authorities said.

The Cochin International Airport was closed on Wednesday till Saturday as the Periyar river waters entered the operational area and flooded the runway.

The defence forces and disaster response teams are putting up makeshift bridges and clearing roads in Kozhikode, Wayanad, Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam, Idukki and Kannur districts on war a footing.

The heaviest rains and floods witnessed in the states since 1924 have caused massive destruction, leaving more than 80,000 people in relief camps and damage to crops and properties that the state has estimated to be over Rs 8,000 crore.

–IANS

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