At least 15 people were killed and around 50 others feared trapped in debris after a landslide triggered by heavy rains flattened a row of dwelling units of tea estate workers at Pettimudi in Rajamala in this high-range district in Kerala early Friday, police and officials said.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said 15 people who got trapped in the debris were rescued and a special officer has been appointed to coordinate the relief operations.
The incident is said to have occurred in the wee hours when a huge mound of earth fell on the “row houses” and two children and five women were among the deceased, most of whom were plantation workers from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
Efforts were underway amid continuing rains to locate the missing people in the first major rain-related mishap since the onset of South West monsoon last month that brought back memories of devastation caused by floods and landslides in the previous two years in the state.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi expressed anguish at the loss of lives in the landslide.
Three injured have been admitted to a private Medical College Hospital in Kolenchery in Ernakulam district and one in Tata General Hospital at Munnar.
Cooking utensils buried in mud, asbestos and tin sheets strewn around were all there to be seen at the area, which was the habitation of around 80 odd workers at the picturesque area near a tea plantation, about 30 kms from the tourist town of Munnar. Big boulders are also scattered around the site.
Addressing a press conference in Thiruvananthapuram, the Chief Minister said 15 people died in the mishap.
Teams of National Disaster Response Force personnel were on their way to Pettimudi for joining the rescue operations and the government has also sought an Indian Air Force helicopter to assist in the mission, he said.
Crime Branch IG Gopesh Agarwal has been appointed as special officer for coordinating the rescue and rehabilitation operations in Pettimudi, Vijayan said.
Condoling the death of workers in the tragedy, the Chief Minister announced initial solatium of Rs 5 lakh each for the kinof the dead. Treatment expenses for the injured will be borne by the government, he said.
In view of the Pettimudi incident, the district collectors have been directed to ensure safety and security of the workers staying in dwelling units in the tea estates.
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a tweet that an ex- gratia of Rs 2 lakh each from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) would be given to the next of kin of those killed in the landslide.
Rs 50,000 each would be given to those injured.
“Pained by the loss of lives due to a landslide in Rajamalai, Idukki. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families,” PM Modi tweeted.
Praying for the early recovery of the injured, he said NDRF and the administration were working on the ground, providing assistance to the affected.
Home Minister Shah in a tweet said an NDRF team has reached Iddukki to assist in the rescue and relief operations.
Rahul Gandhi, who represents Wayanad in Lok Sabha, in a message said “This is a terrible tragedy. I urge all our Congress party workers and leaders to lend a helping hand at this time and do whatever they can to mitigate the suffering of our brothers and sisters who are in need of help.”
The death toll in rain-related incidents since June 1 this year has risen to 51. One person died in a house collapse in Palakkad on Friday, officials said.
Idukki District Collector H Dinesh told PTI that “Most of the people (affected in the landslide) are plantation workers and from neighbouring Tamil Nadu”.
Meanwhile, the India Meteorological Department has sounded a red alert for Idukki on Friday, indicating extremely heavy rains of over 20 cms.
In the last 24 hours ended at 8.30 am, Peermade in the district recorded the maximum of 26.1 cm, it said. Several other districts also received rains in excess of 10 cms.
The tragedy came to light after a forest watchman informed authorities about the landslide. The communication lines have been down in the area since the past three days.
Police and Fire force personnel and local people took up the rescue operations amid the rains.
Munnar MLA S Rajendran told the media earlier in the day that it was difficult to reach the spot as a bridge which provided access to the area was washed away in the rain.
The state health department has dispatched 15 ambulances and a special medical team to provide medical assistance to the victims of the landslide.
Defence sources said a helicopter was ready at the Southern Air Command in Thiruvananthapuram, but was waiting for the weather to clear.
Besides in Idukki, the IMD also forecast extreme heavy rains in Wayanad and Kottayam districts in the next two days, raising fears of more landslides in the Western Ghats region.
The torrential rains also caused flooding in rivers originating from the Western Ghats, a report from Kochi said.
Authorities in Ernakulam, Thrissur, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts have sounded alerts with excess water being released from dams built across the rivers.
The rains in hilly areas have caused a sudden rise in the water level in rivers Periyar and Muvattupuzha flowing through Ernakulam district, which was among the badly hit during the 2018 deluge that claimed over 400 lives and left lakhs of people homeless in the state.
Taking precautionary measures to deal with flood situation, the Ernakulam district administration has opened camps in Aluva and Muvattupuzha and several families were shifted there after flood waters entered residential areas in Muvattupuzha, Kothamangalam, Kochi and Parvur taluks.
In view of incidents of landslides, Ernakulam District Collector S Suhas issued an order banning all mining activities in the district.
Rise in water levels in the rivers flowing through Thrissur, Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts have also been reported due to continuing rains.