Tourist haven braces for more heavy rains

Unprecedented floods in the state forced authorities to open the flood gates of 33 dams

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala is bracing for widespread showers through at least Monday, even as the state with a population exceeding Texas in the United States battles rising flood waters and overflowing dams that’s left 186 dead and thousands homeless.

One of the country’s top tourist destinations, which boasts of miles of beaches and palm-fringed backwaters that’s been promoted for decades as ‘God’s Own Country,’ has seen unprecedented rain in the past few days that’s forced authorities to open the flood gates of 33 dams.

A red alert has been sounded in all but one of the 14 districts of Kerala. The meteorological department has warned heavy rains may affect these districts, according to a Twitter post by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Friday.

Widespread downpour is forecast until at least August 20 in the region, which has already witnessed 37 per cent more showers than normal this year, according to the India Meteorological Department. That compares with rain that has been 8 per cent below average for the country as a whole.

The armed forces have joined the federal and state disaster relief services to rescue people trapped in swirling waters and moved to rooftops or higher ground. The state is facing its second-worst flood after 1924, according to an update on the Kerala chief minister’s distress relief fund website.

As many as 23 bridges have collapsed, more than 211 landslides have been reported and about 10,000 kilometres of roads have been destroyed. Over 20,000 houses have been damaged, 180,000 farmers are affected and total damages are estimated at about 83.2 billion rupees, according to the website.

More than 1,500 relief camps are catering to 223,000 people providing food and drinking water, Tom Jose, chief secretary of the Kerala government, said in a phone interview from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. Helicopters manned by the Indian Air Force have been pressed into service to airlift people from the flooded areas. Rescue efforts have been difficult, he said.

While it’s not the peak tourist period, the monsoon season does attract a lot of visitors. The Cochin International Airport has been shut until August 26, after the runway and taxiway got submerged, airport authorities said. Train services in several parts of the state have also been suspended because of water overflowing tracks, landslides and flash floods, according to a Twitter post by Southern Railway.

“Tourism is completely out of gear,” Pronab Sarkar, president of Indian Association of Tour Operators, said by telephone. “Rescue operations for existing tourists are going on and no fresh tourists are bring sent at the moment.” The floods will have an adverse impact until the middle of September, Sarkar said.

Tourism accounts for about 10 per cent of Kerala’s gross domestic product, with the state getting about 1 million foreign tourists last year and 14.7 million local visitors.

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