Situation worsens in Kerala as incessant rains continue; shutters of 35 dams open for the first time in history

The shutters of 35 of the 39 dams in Kerala, including the 123-year-old Mullaperiyar Dam, have been opened for the first time in history, leaving large areas of the state at the risk of floods.

The heavy rain in Kerala since Tuesday filled the reservoirs of the dams to full capacity, and the fresh bout of rainfall on Wednesday claimed 21 lives, including seven members of a family, in a landslide in Malappuram district, and disrupted life in 12 of the 14 districts.

Kerala State Disaster Management Authority chairman and Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue) PH Kurien described the situation as very alarming. He said the state of affairs will worsen if the rainfall continues at this rate in the coming days.

Heavy inflow of water from reservoirs in Idukki district into the Periyar river has thrown life out of gear in Ernakulam district. Cochin International Airport has suspended operations till 2 pm on Saturday, while Indian Railways has imposed speed restrictions for trains in the Ernakulam-Thrissur stretch because of flooding of tracks. Traffic on National Highway-47 was also disrupted after the Angamaly-Karukutty stretch in Ernakulam was flooded.

Rescue operations are on in full swing in Kerala amid heavy rain. Image Courtesy: Naveen Nair

Rescue operations are on in full swing in Kerala amid heavy rain. Image Courtesy: Naveen Nair

An increase in the water level in the Periyar river after the sluice gates of the Mullaperiyar and Mattupetty dams were opened caused the flooding. The subsequent additional discharge of water through the Idukki and Idamalayar dams exacerbated the situation.

All 13 shutters of the Mullaperiyar Dam, which is maintained and operated by Tamil Nadu, were raised after the water level in the reservoir touched the Supreme Court-approved level of 142 feet. Water was also being released through the dam's slipways.

Despite this, the water level in the dam remained at 142 feet, causing concern in the Kerala side. The water is now flowing down to the Idukki Dam, which is already full to the brim at 2,399 feet. From the Idukki Dam, water is now being released at a rate of 1,500 cumecs.

The rising water level in the Mullaperiyar Dam has fueled the simmering tension between the two states, with Tamil Nadu unwillingly agreeing to consider the Kerala government's request to reduce the storage level in the reservoir to 139 feet.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had taken up the matter with his Tamil Nadu counterpart Edappadi K Palaniswami, given the incessant rain in the catchment areas of the dam. However, the Kerala government has yet to get a favourable response from the neighbouring state.

Vijayan has also sought the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh to persuade the Tamil Nadu government to cooperate with the Kerala authorities. Tamil Nadu has maintained that it has been abiding by the Supreme Court ruling over the height of the dam and expressed difficulty in conceding to the Kerala plea.

State Power Minister M Mani said Kerala will not go for a confrontation with Tamil Nadu at this stage. He said the government was holding discussions with authorities in the neighbouring state and also expressed the hope that they will realise the seriousness of the situation and respond accordingly.

Tamil Nadu, which benefits the most from the waters in the Mullaperiyar reservoir, has been mounting pressure on the Kerala and central governments to increase the storage level to 152 feet. However, Kerala has been opposing the demand, saying that the dam was built with limestone and surkhi in 1895 and cannot withstand additional capacity. The dam had developed a leak after a recent earthquake.

The release of water into the Periyar river has flooded low-lying, downstream areas. As many as 4,000 families were evacuated to safer places after water was released from the Mullaiperiyar dam. Floodwaters entered several residential areas in the densely-populated Aluva town, Kalady and Perumbavoor.

Ninety percent of the Kanjoor panchayat near Kalady on the bank of the Periyar in Ernakulam district has been inundated. About 1,300 people have been shifted to relief camps. The Eloor industrial area is also flooded.

Apart from Ernakulam, the rain has wreaked havoc in other districts, as well. The districts of Idukki, Kozhikode, Malappuram, Palakkad, Pathanamthitta and Thrissur are the other worst-affected ones. While water from the reservoirs submerged Cheruthoni, old Munnar, Uppurhura and Chappath, floods and landslides have displaced a large number of people and caused heavy damage to property and crops.

The picturesque town of Munnar has been virtually cut off since the Mattupetty Dam was opened. The Kochi-Dhanushkodi highway, Munnar-Udumalpetta interstate highway and Munnar-Aluva highway — the three main roads that connect Munnar with the outside world — were inundated, and vehicular traffic was paralysed.

Water released from the dams flooded several places in Pathanamthitta, Kozhikode and Palakkad districts. All residents of Kannappankundu village in Kozhikode have been evacuated because of the heavy rain and landslips. Vehicular movement has been banned on the Kittiyadi Ghat road linking Wayanad. Nearly 7,000 people have been moved to safe places in Kozhikode.

The incessant rain has raised the water level in the Pampa, Achenkovil and Manimala rivers, submerging several areas in Pathanamthitta district. The Pampa Manalpuram on the foothills of Sabarimala was flooded after more water was released from the Pampa and Kakki reservoirs of the Sabarigiri hydroelectric project.

The Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB) has banned devotees from visiting the Sabarimala hill shrine. TDB president A Padmakumar has advised devotees against undertaking the pilgrimage till the floodwaters recede. The air force rescued seven members of a family trapped in Ranni. The Thiruvalla town was also flooded after the rain.

The chief minister said that the flood the state is battling is the worst in the recent past. Vijayan said that the monsoon, which hit Kerala on 29 May, has devastated a large part of the state. He has sought the help of other states and the Centre in tackling the disaster.

According to a revenue official, the toll in the monsoon in Kerala crossed 260 after the death of 21 people on Thursday. The official added that over 36,750 people were now accommodated in over 360 relief camps across the state.

A total of 647 houses were fully and 12,876 partially damaged in the floods and landslides. The rain also destroyed crops in 30,216 hectares of land, and authorities have estimated losses worth Rs 397 crore.


Updated Date: Aug 15, 2018 22:43 PM

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