With 12 more bodies recovered from the mound of debris and slush on Saturday, the casualties in the landslide at a tea estate near Rajamala in Idukki district in Kerala went up to 27 even as rescue personnel, braving inclement weather, continued their search for 42 missing people.
State power minister MM Mani, who is camping at the accident site, admitted that there is little hope for any survivors now. “The situation is really bleak,” he said. The massive landslide took place in the early hours of Friday after a portion of Pettimudi hills caved in razing a colony of tea plantation workers.
The Idukki district administration said missing numbers are likely to go up as many students staying in hostels had returned to their shanties (layams) due to the Covid lockdown. Officials were depending on the employment registry of the Kannan Devan Hill Plantation (KDHP) Limited where they were on the roll, but social workers and local leaders said many like students and guests were out of the registry. “There is some confusion about the exact number of missing,” said Idukki collector H Dineshan.
There are reports a former panchayat member of Munnar Ananda Siva and his 21 members of the extended family are among the missing. Hoping against the hope, relatives have crowded the area and were seen pleading with rescue officials to search particular points. Some of them broke down hysterically saying at least they should get bodies of the missing. Survivors said they are not happy to be saved as many of their relatives are among missing.
“Rajamalai area was not landslide-prone. So we did not take much precautions here. In the 2018 and 2019 floods, the area was least affected. Power and communication lines were cut off in the last four days. This really aggravated the situation,” said district panchayat president Kochu Thresia, adding heavy rains that lashed the area disrupted rescue work several times.
Some areas in Idukki received 220 mm rain, said the Met regional office.
At least six teams of the National Disaster Response Force are carrying out the relief police and fire force personnel.
Minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan who came to Kozhikode to meet the injured in the plane crash said he will be going to Idukki on Sunday as directed by the Prime Minister.
The PM had announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the victims and the state government Rs five lakh. KDHP also announced a relief of Rs 2 lakh to the affected.
Meanwhile, the weather department has issued a red alert in five districts: Idukki, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad and Kannur. All major rivers in the state are in a spate and dams swollen as torrential rains continue to pound many areas.
Five more flood-related deaths were reported from other areas of the state.