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Kerala flood a tragedy without parallel: Death toll rises to 79; Army, Air Force, Navy moves all resources, Rahul Gandhi speaks to PM

By FnF Correspondent | PUBLISHED: 16, Aug 2018, 17:12 pm IST | UPDATED: 16, Aug 2018, 19:33 pm IST

Kerala flood a tragedy without parallel: Death toll rises to 79; Army, Air Force, Navy moves all resources, Rahul Gandhi speaks to PM Kochi: Heavy rains continue to badger Kerala leading to floods across the state as 12 fresh deaths were reported on Thursday, taking the toll to 79, since August 8. More rains were forecast till Saturday in the southern state as it reels under the worst hit monsoon of the century.

Rescue work progressing on a war-footing in Kerala with all three defence forces, the NDRF and private groups pouring into the flood-ravaged state. The Navy has diverted all forces from south to Kerala and the Air Force has deployed 18 aircraft to airlift people from areas entirely cut off by floodwaters. Public transport system has collapsed in many parts of the state, which is grappling with what turns out to be the worst monsoon in a century.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi today said he has approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding help for Kerala, which is reeling under the worst bout of monsoon rain in a Century. Calling it a "tragedy without parallel", Mr Gandhi said he has requested the Prime Minister to "massively increase the deployment of the Army & Navy" in the state. PM Modi tweeted this morning that he spoke to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan today and also asked the Defence Ministry to "further step up" operations.

The Southern Naval Command has already suspended all training and rushed troops and other resources for rescue operations in the flood-hit state.  All three defence forces, the NDRF and private groups as  rescue work had continued through last night as rain pelted down.

The Congress chief has already asked party workers to "step up & help those in need" in the state, where the rivers are in spate. The opening of shutters of all major dams including Mullaperiyar, Cheruthoni, Idukki and Idamalayar, have flooded the areas downstream.  More than 50,000 people have lost their homes.

An alert has now been issued from the Chief Minister's office which warned that the water-level in both Periyar and Chalakudy rivers will rise. "People in 1km radius of Chalakudy, and those inside ½ km of radius of Aluva, must evacuate the place immediately," a tweet from the official handle of the CMO said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday asked the Defence Ministry to further step up relief and rescue operations across Kerala. He also spoke with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan again in the morning.

"We discussed the flood situation in the state. Have asked the Defence Ministry to further step up the rescue and relief operations across the state. Praying for the safety and well-being of the people of Kerala," the PM tweeted.

The situation in Kerala remains grim as red alert has been announced in all the 14 districts of the state.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh took to Twitter to announce the Centre is rushing additional NDRF teams. He tweeted, "Had a telephonic conversation with Kerala Chief Minister Shri Pinarayi Vijayanregardingg the prevailing flood situation in the state. The Centre is rushing additional NDRF teams to Kerala. We are providing all possible assistance. I am in constant touch with Kerala CM."

Officials said a holiday has been declared for educational institutions in all districts barring Kasaragod on Thursday while colleges and universities have postponed exams.

The metro train services were suspended as water level increased in Muttom Metro yard area.

The Cochin International Airport flight operations have been suspended till Saturday (August 18) as the aerodrome was flooded following unabated rains and the opening of dam shutters in the Periyar river, prompting authorities to divert all incoming and outgoing flights to Thiruvananthapuram or Kozhikode.

The Civil Aviation Ministry acceded to the state's request to utilise other airports in Kerala, instead of diverting the flights to Mumbai and other places. Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu tweeted, "We have asked all airlines, domestic and foreign, to reschedule their Cochin flights either from Trivandrum or from Calicut (Kozhikode). For international flights, this will require special dispensation which has been granted considering the emergency. DGCA is coordinating."

To the state government's request to allow small aircraft to land at the naval airport in Kochi, the minister said they were exploring alternative landing places for small aircraft. Airlines including IndiGo, Air India and SpiceJet have announced the suspension of their operations to Kochi.

From Kasaragod in the north to Thiruvananthapuram in the south, all rivers are in spate and shutters of 35 dams, including Mullaperiyar, have been opened. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the heavy rains would continue for some more days, which will further worsen the situation.

A government release said Vijayan spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh on the grave situation the state was facing following the rains. The Prime Minister has assured all help, it said. The PM has taken a "positive stand" towards the state on relief measures, Vijayan told reporters.

CM Vijayan had sent an SOS to the Central government. The Chief Minister has requested Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to send additional teams of Army, National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) and Army Engineering Corps to Kerala on immediate basis.

The state has also sought a C-17 aircraft to facilitate transporting of equipment to areas hit be rains and floods. Vijayan also took up the issue of increasing water level in Mullaperiyar dam with the Home Minister, pointing that water has reached “dangerous levels”.

Vijayan also reached out to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswamy, asking him to look into the Mullaperiyar dam water level issue. According to the Kerala Chief Minister’s office, “CM raised the issue of the water level in Mullaperiyar dam, which has reached dangerous levels, with the Home Minister… CM informed that Tamil Nadu has to intervene immediately to lower the water-level in Mullaperiyar dam. @HMOIndia discussed the matter with the Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu.”

The water level in the Achankoil River at Alappuzha's Kollakadavu has also increased.

More than 1.5 lakh people have been lodged in relief camps across the state.

Train services have been disrupted and road transport services are in disarray with stretches of roads coming under water. A landslide between Kuzhithurai and Eraniel stations has delayed four long-distance trains, railway sources said adding a few passenger trains have been partially hit. There were also speed restrictions on trains on the Thiruvananthapuram-Thrissur section while rail traffic on the Kollam-Punalur-Sengottai section has been suspended.

Power supply, communication systems and distribution of drinking water have been disrupted in various parts of the state in the rain mayhem.

As the situation became grave, the state government sought the help of more teams of army personnel, National Disaster Response Force and Army Engineering. The chief minister also met Governor P Sathasivam and informed him of the situation.

Major tourist centres including Athirappally, Ponmudi and Munnar, which were expecting huge influx of visitors in the wake of Onam festival season, have closed.

An urgent meeting, convened by the chief minister here to evaluate the flood situation, directed officials to requisition a maximum number of lifeboats from Tamil Nadu. The chief secretary was asked to contact neighbouring states for emergency assistance.

As the drinking water distribution system collapsed in several parts, Vijayan asked people to minimise the use of water being distributed by the state water authority.

The state last saw such a devastating flooding in 1924. Famous for its coastline and picturesque backwaters, Kerala has become a major destination for domestic and international tourists.