33 dead, dozens missing in Kerala floods, landslides

At least 33 people died and some 50 others were missing on Friday in flash floods and landslides triggered by torrential rains across the southern Indian state of Kerala.

The deaths come nearly a year after massive floods hit the state leaving almost 500 people dead and 140 missing.

More than 1,200 homes were completely or partially destroyed and
about 64,000 people displaced by floods and landslides have taken shelter in 738 relief camps set up in the affected districts by the state government.

The worst landslides were reported in Puthumala in Wayanad district and Kavalappara near Nilambur in Malappuram district.

Several members of some 30 families went missing after part of a hill caved in and buried their homes in Kavalappara.

Braving the downpour, neighbours desperately used their hands to search and pull ten bodies buried in mud. A rescue team from the Indian Air Force is expected to arrive on Saturday to extricate more bodies.

Reports say hillside residents of Kavalappara were warned of the potential danger and told to immediately move to the nearest relief camps. Seventeen families moved out while others stayed put.

More than 40 homes were swept away in landslides in Kavalappara alone.  

Nine bodies were recovered from the debris left behind by a massive landslide in Puthumala.

The government is planning to move some 100,000 people to relief camps in Wayanad where the flood situation is more alarming now than last year.

If heavy rains continue, Banasura Sagar dam in Wayanad and Malampuzha dam in Palakkad may have to open their shutters, agencies reported citing state electricity and water board officials.  

According to the latest Met bulletin, low pressure is likely to form again in the Bay of Bengal bringing more rains to the state until August 15.
The deluge last year was triggered by downpour which started around this date.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who represents the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency, has requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release aid for flood relief works in the district.

Wind speed in coastal areas has touched 50mph and fishermen have been warned not to venture into sea.

Red alert has been sounded in the districts of Wayanad, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur, Palakkad, Ernakulam and Idukki.

Man-made disaster

While floods and landslides are a manifestation of nature’s fury, environmentalists are blaming successive governments for their failure to protect hills, forests, rivers, mid-lands and paddy fields which used to serve as reservoirs during floods.

Kerala has some 3,100 quarries in the western mountain range and more than 1,700 of them are operating illegally.     

The state government had rejected a 2011 report by an expert panel led by Madhav Gadgil on the fragile ecosystem of this mountainous region which served as a huge well allowing rain water to slowly descend into earth binding soil and vegetation.

The government ignored the panel’s call for collective action against quarry operators and sand miners who destroy forests, deface hills and encroach river basins.

It later accepted the advice of Kasturirangan committee which suggested that only 37% of the Western Ghats be protected from quarry operators and miners.

The government also allowed builders to turn hillsides, river fronts and paddy fields into construction sites.