Flash floods and landslides have killed 109 people in Kerala since torrential monsoon rains first battered the south Indian state last week, authorities said Friday.
The death toll has steadily risen over the past week as rescue workers scramble to reach thousands of people stranded by floodwater. The army, navy and coast guard have been sent in to assist, and fisherman have been asked to help with rescue efforts.
Kerala remains under a red alert, the highest warning level issued during emergencies in India, according to India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), which has deployed 53 teams across the state.
A total of 780 personnel are now involved in the rescue mission. Meanwhile, tens of thousands have been displaced, and are sheltering in relief camps.
Search and rescue efforts have been further complicated by limited transport; railway tracks and roads are too flooded to use, and operations at the international airport in the city of Kochi have been suspended until Saturday.
Rescue teams have taken to the air instead. Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala’s chief minister, tweeted on Thursday asking residents to “stand in open areas on top of buildings and houses” to be airlifted.
Lifeboats and life jackets would also be airdropped to large groups of stranded residents, and 23 additional helicopters and 200 boats would join rescue operations on Friday, he added.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has asked the defense ministry to step up relief and rescue operations, announced Friday that he would visit Kerala that evening to “take stock of the unfortunate situation.”
Monsoon rains are to be expected in India this time of the year. But after days of abnormally heavy rains, authorities last week opened the shutters of water reservoirs in an effort to prevent potentially disastrous breaches.
“For the first time in history, 27 dams in the state had to be opened. Never before has the state witnessed a calamity of this scale,” Vijayan said in a statement.
The Indian Meteorological Department has issued a warning for heavy rainfall in the state for the next two days, with moderate rain expected to continue after that. On Twitter, Chief Minister Vijayan warned that the Periyar and Chalakudy rivers would rise, and that residents in the vicinity “must evacuate the place immediately.”