Flash floods and landslides have claimed at least 27 lives in the southern Indian state of Kerala, officials said on Friday, prompting the US to advise its citizens to stay away from the tourist hotspot.

The coastal state, famed for its pristine palm-lined beaches and tea plantations, is battered by the annual monsoon every year but the rains have been particularly severe this season.

The June-September rains in the state have cost 175 lives and damaged crops worth 3.42 billion rupees (S$68 million) across 26,824 ha since their onset on May 29, an official at the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA), who did not wish to be identified, said.

Nationwide, more than 700 people have been killed in monsoon flooding. Last year 1,200 people perished.

In Kerala the army has been roped in for rescue efforts after two days of rain that have forced authorities to open the shutters of 24 reservoirs to drain out the excess water in an unprecedented move to prevent potentially disastrous breaches.

“Twenty-four dams have been opened so far, which is unprecedented and is telling of the seriousness of the situation,” Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wote on Twitter.

“People living in the downstream areas of these dams must be cautious.”

One of the five shutters of a large reservoir in the mountainous Idukki district was opened for the first time in 26 years.

The maximum storage level of the reservoir, which is one of the largest arch dams in Asia, is 732m.

“If the rain continues, the other shutters will also be opened. All residents living along 100 metres of the dam have been asked to relocate to safe places,” a Kerala State Electricity Board official in Idukki, who did not wish to be named, said.

Some 20,000 people have been displaced and 260 relief camps have been set up.

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