Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 January 2020

Kochi airport closed as India's Kerala state faces another flood crisis

State chief minister warns that dam floodgates may have to be opened if heavy rains continue

Flooding in Kerala has forced the closure of Kochi international airport as the south Indian state faced a crisis caused by heavy monsoon downpours for a second consecutive year.

Authorities said the main airport for tourist traffic would remain closed until at least Sunday after the runways were submerged by rising water.

Emirates Airlines said flights from Dubai to Kochi were being diverted after the airport was closed on Thursday night. An announcement on its website said all scheduled flights to Kochi on Friday were being diverted to Kerala's Trivandrum airport, about 200 kilometres further south.

Etihad Airways said it had suspended flights to Kochi until Sunday and was increasing services and the size of aircraft on its Trivandrum route to accommodate affected passengers.

Aircraft are parked on the flooded tarmac of Kochi international airport in India's Kerala state on August 9, 2019. AFP
Aircraft are parked on the flooded tarmac of Kochi international airport in India's Kerala state on August 9, 2019. AFP

Officials said at least 22 people have been killed in Kerala after days of heavy rain that have also affected other parts of south India, but media reports gave a figure of 29 dead for just Thursday.

With the downpours forecast to continue for several days, Kerala's chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan warned the public that dam gates may have to be opened soon – a factor in the worst flooding in a century last year that claimed about 500 lives and devastated large areas of the state.

More than 20 landslides had already been reported and high level alerts ordered in nine districts, Mr Vijayan said.

Rescuers have recovered seven dead bodies after a major landslide in Puthumala village in the hilly district of Wayanad. Dozens more are feared trapped under the mud and the state government is planning to fly rescue equipment to the area, Mr Vijayan said.

He said more than 23,000 people had been moved into 315 emergency camps set up across the state.

The western Indian states of states of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka have also been hit by heavy rains and flooding this week, with at least 38 people killed and more than 200,000 moved from their homes to safer areas, officials said.

Hundreds of villages and a few towns in the affected areas of Maharashtra do not have electricity and drinking water, a state government official said on Friday, and authorities are trying to restore electricity in some areas.

Fuel was also scarce because some districts had been cut off from the rest of the state, the official said.

Schools and colleges in many parts of western and southern India have been shut since Monday and are unlikely to open this week, authorities have said.

Milk and vegetable supplies to India's financial hub, Mumbai, dropped significantly on Friday because many of the affected districts in Maharashtra are major suppliers.

The weather department has forecast heavy rainfall in Kerala, Maharashtra and Karnataka in the next two days.

Updated: August 9, 2019 04:41 PM