Kerala flood death toll rises to 23 as rescuers enter worst-affected areas

South Indian state lashed by heavy rain for three days running

The death toll from flash floods and landslides in India's southern state of Kerala rose to 23 on Sunday as heavy rain poured down for a third day.

Rescue workers retrieved more bodies, most of them from Kottayam and Idukki districts, on Sunday afternoon when the rain had partially subsided in several parts of the state.

“We can confirm 23 deaths in rain-related incidents in the last 24 hours,” said T Sathi Kumar, an official at the state's Information and Public Relations Department.

“Ten bodies were recovered from Koottikkal in Kottayam and eight bodies have been recovered from Kokayyar in Idukki on Sunday. Four of them were children. The other bodies are recovered from several parts of the state,” he told The National.

Three people died in Kottayam district on Saturday when their houses were washed away, while two drowned in Idukki.

Officials said earlier that at least 20 people were missing in the state after extremely heavy rainfall since Friday night, caused by a low pressure area over the Arabian Sea.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences to the victims' families and assured people of assistance.

“It is unfortunate that a few lives were lost in heavy rains and landslides in Kerala. Condolences to the families of the deceased," Mr Modi wrote on Twitter.

“Authorities are working on the ground to assist the injured and affected. I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being."

The heavy rains triggered landslides and swelled many rivers across the state. Roads were swept away, houses were damaged and trees uprooted. Several villages in hilly areas were cut off.

Videos shared on social media showed a flash flood barrelling into the town of Erattupetta in southern Kerala. Another clip showed a house disappearing into a river that overflowed into its backyard.

Authorities said the worst-affected areas were Kottayam and Idukki, which received 164.5 millimetres and 305.5mm of rainfall, respectively, since Saturday morning.

The situation in the districts was so bad that emergency teams could not operate there on Saturday, Kerala Revenue Minister K Rajan said.

"I have not seen something like this before. Yesterday the rescue teams couldn't even enter the districts but the rescue work started this morning,” he told The National.

Eleven teams from the National Disaster Relief Force and the armed forces joined the rescue and relief effort. Indian Navy helicopters were dropping food parcels to stranded people.

Although the rain abated on Sunday, the threat of landslides, flooding and rivers overflowing persists.

The level of many rivers was rising above the danger mark as authorities began releasing water from at least seven dams. Residents of low-lying areas along river banks were shifted to safer places.

“More than 2,000 people would be rehabilitated and shifted to different relief camps, one dedicated to Covid-19 positive patients,” Mr Rajan said.

The government asked devotees not to visit the Sabarimala Temple, the state's most revered Hindu place of worship, on Monday.

The temple is situated on a hilltop amid dense forest and surrounded by the Pamba River, which is overflowing. It opened to devotees for monthly prayer rituals on Saturday.

Rain is common in the state at this time but its intensity has grown in recent years. In 2018, widespread flooding triggered by heavy rainfall affected large parts of the state and left about 500 people dead.

Updated: November 1st 2021, 10:51 AM