By Malini Menon and Jose Devasia
NEWDELHI (Reuters) – Torrential rains and landslides killed at least 24 people in southern India on Thursday, with the authorities opening the shutters of 24 water reservoirs in an unprecedented move to prevent potentially disastrous breaches, officials said.
The June-September rains in Kerala state have cost 175 lives and damaged crops worth 3.42 billion rupees (£38.7 million) across 26,824 hectares (66,284 acres) since their onset on May 29, an official at the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA), who did not wish to be identified, said.
The state meteorological department forecast rains to continue on Friday and return on Monday.
“Kerala has received 17 percent more rainfall so far during the current season compared with last year,” K. Santhosh, Kerala director of India’s Meteorological Department, told Reuters.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced, several are missing, with incessant rains for more than 48 hours in some areas inundating hectares of low-lying land, authorities said.
The National Disaster Relief Force and the armed forces are helping in rescue and relief operations, they added.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, “24 dams have been opened so far, which is unprecedented and is telling of the seriousness of the situation.”
The state, which has 44 rivers, witnessed its worst floods in 1924 following torrential rains.
“The situation is grim, especially in the coastal parts of Kerala, given the continuous rains,” P.H. Kurian, State Relief Commissioner and Convenor of KSDMA told Reuters.
One of the five shutters of a large reservoir in northern Idukki district, about 240 km (150 miles) from state capital Thiruvananthapuram, was opened for the first time in 26 years.
The maximum storage level of the reservoir, which is one of the largest arch dams in Asia, is 2,403 feet.
“If the rain continues, the other shutters will also be opened. All residents living along 100 metres of the dam have been asked to relocate to safe places,” a Kerala State Electricity Board official in Idukki, who did not wish to be named, said.
With its sweeping coastline, riverboats and tea plantations, Kerala, about the size of Bhutan, has become a leading tourist destination, promoting itself as ‘God’s Own Country’, and has seen a boom in infrastructure.
“Wetland refilling, encroachment and unauthorised construction in river banks and conversion of paddy fields have affected the flow of water, leading to stagnation and flash floods,” another official at KSDMA said on condition of anonymity.
(Writing by Malini Menon, Editing by William Maclean)