Thiruvananthapuram: At least six people died and several others remain missing after heavy rains lashed Kerala since Friday evening triggering numerous landslides and floods, prompting the state government to seek the assistance of the defence forces for rescue operations.
The state has been witnessing incessant rain since Friday evening due to the low-pressure area formed over the Arabian Sea, leaving roads at several places flooded and normal traffic affected at a number of places.
Officials said personnel of the Army, Airforce and the Navy were on the way to Koottickal and Peruvanthanam--the two hilly villages falling under Kottayam and Idukki districts respectively--where an overflowing river swept through houses, displacing and isolating many.
State Cooperation Minister V N Vasavan, who reached the neighbourhood of these landslide-hit villages, said bodies of two women and a child who died, were recovered while search was on to recover the body of a man who also lost his life in the incident.
He said at least 12 people are missing from these villages.
Another major landslide was reported from Idukki where three houses have been washed away. Eight people are reportedly missing there.
However, the rescue teams of the state police and fire force could not reach the affected areas due to floods and adverse weather conditions prevailing there.
A car with two people who were asked not to go forward near Thodupuzha in Idukki district was swept away by the gushing waters and a few hours later the dead bodies were recovered by the locals who swung into action.
A woman drowned to death in Kokkayar of Peerumedu taluk in Idukki district on Saturday. Ancy, who was rehabilitated to a relief camp, was caught in the flood when she returned home to fetch some essentials.
The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority has advised people in the southern and central districts to exercise extreme caution. Thunderstorm accompanied by lightning is also likely in isolated places.
"The situation is serious", Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said. He, however, said the latest weather forecast indicates that the situation is not going to get worse.
Several people have been injured and displaced in rain-related incidents in the State where dams in many districts are nearing its full capacity and small towns and villages in the hilly areas are totally cut off from the outside world.
Many hilly areas of Kottayam, Idukki and Pathanamthitta are experiencing almost similar to that of the situation the state faced during the time of devastating floods of 2018 and 2019 but authorities said everything was under control and there was no need for any panic.
Shutters of Malampuzha dam and Malankara dam were raised following the rise in water levels.
Three shutters of the Thenmala Parappar dam was raised by 50 centimetres each. Water levels have risen in Kakki, Aanathodu dam reservoirs and Pamba, Triveni rivers.
Pathanamthitta district has been witnessing rainfall levels equivalent to 2018 levels. According to unofficial estimates, the district received 10 cm of rainfall in the past 12 hours.
Over 30 families have been shifted to relief camps as water level rose in the Vellayani Lake in Thiruvananthapuram district.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) warned of heavy rains on Sunday also as it issued yellow alerts for Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Idukki, Malappuram, Kannur and Kasaragod districts.
The IMD had earlier issued a red alert in Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Idukki, Thrissur and Palakkad districts for Saturday, predicting extremely heavy rainfall.
An orange alert was sounded in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Alappuzha, Malappuram, Kozhikode and Wayanad districts.
Yellow alert was issued in Kannur and Kasaragod districts.
NDRF, Army, Air Force join rescue op
The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has earmarked 11 teams to be deployed in the south and central parts of Kerala.
NDRF director general S N Pradhan said in a tweet that the teams are being sent "in view of red alert for rainfall and possible flooding/water logging in several districts of Kerala."
One team each will be deployed in Malappuram, Alappuzha, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Pathanamthitta, Palakkad, Kottayam, Kannur and Kollam while two teams will be stationed at Idukki.
A single NDRF team usually has a strength of 47 personnel equipped with tree and pole cutters, communication gadgets, inflatable boats and basic medical aid to rescue affected people and to launch relief operations.
The state government has already sought the assistance of the Army and the Air Force to launch rescue operations.
Revenue Minister K Rajan called a meeting of district collectors via online Saturday afternoon to coordinate with the disaster management programmes and take stock of the damage caused by the rains across the state.
Health Minister Veena George convened a virtual meeting of MLAs at the collectorate in Pathanamthitta. The water level is rising steadily in many rivers including Meenachil and Manimala.
Minister for Cooperation and Registration V N Vasavan said that at least three houses have been washed away in Kottayam district and 10 people feared missing.
"At least four landslips have been reported from various parts of Kottayam district. We have sought the assistance of the Airforce to rescue people who are stranded in Koottickal area. We have received information about some people missing and over 60 waiting to be rescued as water entered their homes," the minister said.
Vasavan ensured that compensations will be granted to those who suffered losses due to the rain. He had visited affected areas in Kanjirappally, Mundakkayam, Pala and Koottickal on Saturday evening.
Visuals have emerged on social media from various parts of Kottayam district, including a KSRTC bus stuck in floodwater and locals rescuing passengers from it.
A CMO release said a Red alert has been sounded for the dams under KSEB, including Kakki dam in Pathanamthitta, Sholayar in Thrissur, Kundala and Kallarkutti in Idukki.
A red alert has also been issued for Chulliyar dam in Palakkad and Peechi dam in Thrissur, which are under the irrigation department.