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Hundreds Killed as Kerala, India, Hit by Worst Floods Since 1920s

Flooded Kerala

The idyllic tourist destination of Kerala, India, is experiencing some of its worst floods in nearly a century, with torrential rains in recent days killing at least 324 people, state officials said, and shuttering the state’s major infrastructure.

Scores of the state’s residents were injured in landslides and authorities said nearly 220,000 more have been displaced since heavy rains began battering the southern Indian state last week.

Officials said the rains were the heaviest there since 1924.

Floodwaters had risen high enough Friday to lap at the engines of jets parked on the runway of Kerala’s main international airport in Kochi, and authorities ordered it closed until Aug. 26, further complicating relief efforts.

The severe rains have engulfed entire villages, triggered landslides and thrown open dam gates. The military has deployed hundreds of troops to help the state with rescue victims: Helicopters airlifted stranded families from the rooftops of their homes, and the navy plucked survivors desperately clutching tires and other floating debris from the fetid waters.

The state’s chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, said Friday that all but one of Kerala’s 14 districts would be affected by the rains, and warned that the population faced an “extremely grave” crisis. Vijayan’s government ordered helicopters to airdrop lifeboats, life jackets and other flotation devices to stranded groups of 50 or more people.

Kerala’s government said 80 of the state’s dams had reached precarious levels and it appealed to residents to heed evacuation warnings. At least eight people were killed when an irrigation dam burst, triggering a landslide that hit three houses.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Friday he would tour Kerala to take stock of the devastation.

Since last week, the central government has deployed the army, air force, coast guard and navy to the state and sent an additional 540 troops Thursday. Another 200 boats and 23 helicopters were expected to arrive Friday, state officials said.

The annual monsoon brings strong winds and heavy rains every summer to India. But the season this year has been particularly severe in Kerala, which has witnessed excess rainfall of some 37 percent compared with last year, officials said.

© New York Times 2018