Kerala flood: Flight operations begin at Kochi Navy Base

Kochi: Commercial flight operations to Kerala’s flood-hit Kochi resumed on Monday after the Navy activated its airstrips to accommodate small passenger aircraft.

The first flight landed early on Monday morning at the INS Garuda naval air station. But the main Kochi airport will remain closed till August 26 as they await floodwater to recede from the country’s seventh-busiest facility.

A joint team of the centre and the civil aviation ministry gave the go-ahead for the flight operations at the Navy’s air station in Kochi. The first flight of the 70-seater Alliance Air plane that landed at Kochi has been booked full on its return leg to Bengaluru. Alliance Air is a subsidiary of the state-run carrier Air India. Other airlines are also likely to fly to Kochi.

Over 160 people have died in the Kerala flood. Heavy rain is likely to subside as per weather reports, though light rain has been forecast at least till Saturday. Rainfall has been gradually decreasing for the last three days.

Flights to other destinations are likely to resume shortly, Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu tweeted. The Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association or ICPA has told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that they are willing to fly to flood-hit Kerala without taking any payment.

Even though floodwater has started receding in some areas of the state, the bigger concern now in the aftermath of the severe floods is lack of safe drinking water and diseases due to mosquito infestation, especially in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.

The red alert that had been in place for days in Kerala, was removed on Sunday. But some districts still have orange and yellow alerts. There has been no rain in central Kerala’s Thrissur in the last 24 hours, and people displaced by the floods have started returning to their homes.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said the state has enough food to feed the flood-affected people. Transporting food and relief material, however, remains a challenge as long stretches of several important highways are flooded.

The chief minister said that over seven lakh people are staying at 5,645 relief camps across Kerala.

The Centre has set up 3,700 medical camps across Kerala, the health ministry said in a statement on Sunday. They are actively monitoring patients to stop any contagious disease from spreading fast. Relief agencies in Thrissur say they need more antiseptic soaps and disinfectants. Food packets and medicines are being dropped from helicopters.

More than 1,000 kg of relief material has been dropped from helicopters in and around Chengannur, one of the worst affected areas in the state. “567 people stranded in their homes have been picked up by rescuers,” Air Marshal B Suresh told NDTV.

Two large boats of the Border Security reached Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday. Sixty tonnes of medicines from Hindon and 70 doctors from Mumbai have also arrived at the state capital, the National Disaster Management Authority or NDMA tweeted.

In worst-hit areas rescuers are searching inundated houses where they have found the bodies of those trapped by the fast-rising floodwaters.

“They didn’t think that it would rise this high — 10 to 15 feet at some places — when the initial warnings were issued,” said Ashraf Ali KM, who is leading the search at Mala town in Thrissur.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan thanked fishing workers who participated in rescue operations. “All boats will be granted Rs. 3,000 for each day of their work. Government will also bear the repairing costs of boats damaged during the mission,” the chief minister’s office tweeted.

As Kerala received over 250% more rain than usual between August 8 and 15, the state authorities had to release water from 35 dams.