KOCHI: One of the most haunting memories for the senior officials of Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) during last year’s flood was the continuous blaring of horns - like in a horror movie - from hundreds of cars parked at the airport as water seeped into the vehicles. The once busy airport was under flood water, and about 30 lakh sqft of its built-up area and 1,400 acres of the operational area were covered under a thick layer of slimy mud as water gushed in. The airport was shut down, and it seemed it will take at least several months to restore it to its former self.
It’s not surprising that the once-in-a-century rain got the entire area submerged given that it is situated just eight metres above sea level. “Bhoothathankettu barrage’s spillway level is 26.5 metres. During the flood, the level touched 35.50 metres - which means the water level rose to nine metres. At that level, the airport also sunk,” said an official at CIAL. But the recovery and the resurrection of the airport and the steps it took to ensure the damage can be minimised in future are the key takeaways from the disaster.
“The first step was to clean up the huge area of the runway and apron, which were covered in mud and dirt. It was a humongous task,” the official said. “We worked round the clock; food was provided at the site itself for workers. As many as 12 tankers with 30,000 litres capacity were pressed into service. We also provided the facility to recharge the tankers at a nearby location,” the official said. By August 28, all the collapsed boundary walls were almost reconstructed. “The DGCA conducted its inspection on August 28 itself and the next day the airport was reopened after it remained closed for 15 days,” said P S Jayan, spokesman of CIAL.
The markings on the runway were completely covered with mud, and it was a tough task to remove it. “We had to clean the runway and paint the markings afresh,” the official said. “Rubber removal equipment and painting machine were brought from Bengaluru Airport using the contacts at BIAL. This ensured the works were completed in time,” he said.
Work in progress to prevent future flooding
CIAL is now engaged in a series of construction activities in Nedumbassery area to ensure the water gets a smooth passage in the event of a flood in future, and the villages are not cut-off from other parts of the region.
Officers said bridges are being constructed across the Chengal creek towards A P Varkey Road and Chethikodu Road. This will ensure people in Thuravunkara area are not cut off during floods. The work will be completed in three months, said Jayan.
Similarly, the width and the depth of the diversion canal along Cochin airport’s southern side have been increased to ensure smooth flow of the excess water. The work is nearly over.
On the northern side of the runway, the airport is constructing a new canal. The second diversion canal will be connected to Nayathura and later to Manjoli creek.
“We hope all these steps will ensure the severity of floods can be mitigated in future,” said the CIAL spokesman.