Thiruvananthapuram, Aug 15 (IANS) An incessant downpour battered Kerala again on Wednesday resulting in 19 more deaths and further destruction, forcing the authorities to issue a red alert across the southern state.
With reports of the fresh deaths, the death toll since August 8 climbed to 58.
While a red alert was sounded in 11 of the 14 Kerala districts, including Idukki, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Malappuram, Pathanamthitta, Kannur and Ernakulam, by Wednesday afternoon, it was extended across the state by the evening hours.
Cochin airport was shut till Saturday after water flooded the complex.
In a first, the sluices of 33 dams across Kerala have been opened, following incessant rain since late Tuesday. More rain has been forecast till Saturday.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan appealed to the people for generous contributions to battle the worst floods faced by Kerala in nearly a century.
Vijayan spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi late Wednesday evening and was assured of all necessary help. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh promised to send more forces to help the state.
The deaths reported on Wednesday included those of five of a family in Malappuram who were crushed when their house collapsed. Three were reported missing, while one child was rescued.
A person died in a Munnar lodge collapse. A 70-year-old woman was electrocuted near Pathanamthitta as her house was submerged.
Landslides claimed lives in Malappuram too. In Thiruvananthapuram district, a 70-year-old man died after the wall of his house collapsed.
Two landslides occurred in Idukki in late evening, killing five people. Four persons were reported missing in the landslips.
More and more people are pouring into relief camps, including those who had earlier returned to their homes in Ernakulam, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Wayanad districts.
The capital district on Wednesday witnessed heavy rain which submerged several low-lying areas. Officials hurriedly opened 14 relief camps.
Among those who had to be shifted from their homes were veteran Congress leader and former State party President V.M. Sudheeran and his wife. Actor turned BJP Rajya Sabha member Suresh Gopi's house in the city was also flooded.
The famed tourist destination in Munnar has been closed for traffic, following flooding of the Old Munnar town.
The Sabarimala temple has warned pilgrims not to reach the shrine in view of the surging river waters in the vicinity.
Although special prayers were listed for Wednesday, the temple was closed to devotees as the Pamba river was in spate.
On Wednesday, Vijayan took the Independence Day salute amid rain here and urged everyone to contribute generously.
The Idukki dam floodgates were reopened late on Tuesday as the water level in the Periyar river and its tributaries flowing through Ernakulam and Thrissur districts rose menacingly.
The shutters of the Mullaperiyar dam were opened at 2.35 a.m. after its level crossed 140 feet. People living in and around the dam were evacuated late on Tuesday.
The Cochin International Airport was closed till Saturday afternoon as water released from the Idukki dam flooded the area. Airport Director A.C.K. Nair called the development "unprecedented".
"We decided to take this step because since last night dams like Idukki, Mullaperiyar, Idamalayar have opened their shutters. The water released reaches the Periyar river and one of its tributaries flows close to the airport and it is overflowing, sending the water to our operational area," said Nair.
He pointed out that with more rain predicted in the coming days, it was decided to close the airport operations.
"Once the water recedes, it will take us 24 hours to clean up. Then only flights will resume. As of now, we have decided to close down till 2 p.m. on August 18," said Nair.
Cochin airport is one of the three international airports in the state, and the busiest.
Three new teams of Military Engineering Task Force were scheduled to arrive in the state capital in the evening. A team of naval officials has already reached Alappuzha district for relief and rescue.
Other defence forces and disaster response teams already in the state for the past few days are busy in putting up makeshift bridges and clearing roads in the affected areas in Kozhikode, Wayanad, Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam, Idukki and Kannur districts.
Indian Air Force personnel used helicopters to airlift scores of people to safety in water-logged Pathanamthitta district on Wednesday evening.
The heaviest rains and floods since 1924 have caused massive destruction, leaving more than 50,000 people in relief camps and damage to crops and properties that the state estimated to be over Rs 8,000 crore.