Woes rain in Kerala; 39 dead, economy wrecked

Thiruvananthapuram: Rains pounded several parts of Kerala, triggering landslips and compounding the woes of people already reeling under unprecedented floods and downpour which have claimed 39 lives in the last six days, officials said.

The Union Home Ministry’s National Emergency Response Centre (NERC) said in New Delhi 187 people have lost their lives in Kerala to the monsoon fury, with 2,406 villages in 14 districts badly hit by rains and floods, and standing crop in over 26,400 hectres damaged.

Landslides were reported from various places in Malappuram, Kozhikode, Idukki and Wayanad districts, as nearly one lakh people rendered homeless due to the deluge took refuge in hundreds of relief camps.

In the picturesque Wayanad district alone, over 14,000 people have taken shelter in 124 relief camps, the state’s disaster control room said.

Some respite appeared on the the horizon for the Idduki hill district, ravaged by floods, with the water in the Idukki dam receding to 2,397.58 ft, alleviating concerns about floods in fresh downstream areas, particularly in Ernakulam district.

The current level does not warrant issuing any warning, they said. The weatherman has issued a fresh warning asking fishermen not to venture into the sea, saying the coasts of Kerala and Lakshadweep may experience winds packing speeds of 35 to 45 kmph, sometimes going up to 60 kmph.

Large parts of the State known for its verdant valleys and plantations looked like a massive swamp, with houses flattened and marooned, and crops destroyed.

Rolling down menacingly from upper reaches, flood water wrecked a large number of homes in these districts. Distraught victims could be seen gathering utensils, cots and other belongings from the debris before shifting to safer places.

The massive deluge has also wrecked the State’s travel and tourism industry and seriously impacted its plantation sector.

Just as the tourism industry was recovering from the cancellation of bookings at hotels and resorts following the Nipah outbreak, heavy rains and floods came as a huge blow, say industry sources.

The State’s tourism department was all set to organise the famed snake boat races, which have mesmerised visitors for decades, by giving it an new format– Champion’s Boat League (CBL)– on the lines of the Indian Premier League (IPL) from August 11 this year. The event has now been postponed.

“We will find a new date. The government is currently busy with relief and rescue operations due to the floods and landslids in various parts of the State,” Director of Kerala Tourism P Bala Kiran told PTI.

The Responsible Tourism Mission under the tourism department had drawn up a programme for organsing feasts at countryside homes for tourists during the onam festival next week. The flood-hit areas are now certain to be excluded, sources said.

According to E M Najeeb, senior vice president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO),70-80 per cent of hotel bookings in scenic Idukki, Munnar and Kumarakkom, the most preferred tourist destinations, have been cancelled.

The blooming of ‘Neelakurinji’ flowers in the hills of Munnar, an event that occurs once in 12 years and is eagerly awaited, has also been affected by the rains.

Idukki produces over a dozen varieties of spices, including pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and turmeric, besides many others, and the destruction has been widespread. Spices board sources 35-40 per cent cardamom and pepper crops have been destroyed.

According to Ajit B K, the secretary of the Association of Planters of Kerala, the tea, coffee, cardamom and rubber planters have suffered losses of about Rs 600 crore so far.

Tourist town of Munnar in Idukki received the highest rainfall of 11 cm, followed by Vadakara in Kozhikode 9 cm and Mananthavady in Wayanad 8 cm.

Kannur and Palakkad also received heavy rainfall, weather office said. With heavy rains forecast over the next few days, fears mounted over rise in the water level of Periyar, Bharathapuzha and Kabini rivers.

As the rain-fed Pampa rose menacingly, the authorities asked Ayyappa devotees not to travel to the hillock shrine in Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district.

Besides Travancore Devaswom Board, which manages the shrine, the district authorities and police have issued alerts to devotees and decided to stop them at various points till the water receded.

A large number of pilgrims are flocking to the famed Lord Ayyappa temple as it will be opened for the ‘niraputhari’ ritual and festivities of ‘Chingam’ this week.

The Pampa river flowing on the foothills of Sabarimala breached its banks at several places, damaging buildings and shops, flooding pathways and uprooting electric poles.

Heavy rains in the catchment areas close to the Sabarigiri hydroelectric project and the opening of the shutters of the Pampa and Anathode dams caused the flooding, authorities said.

The sluice gates of Moozhiyar and Kakki, the other two dams in Pathanamthitta district, were also opened after the water level rose sharply.