Surrounding the 20-foot-deep pile of rubble and boulders at the landslide site – around 18km from Kerala’s Munnar town – are grieving locals, shocked at their families being wiped out within seconds. Rescue teams are continuing with the search operation for fifth consecutive day amid continuous rain in a difficult terrain. Till now, they have found 50 bodies in an area where at least 80 people lived.
Karpayi, 45, burst out in tears as she told NDTV how she lost 16 members of her family in seconds. Only she and her son escaped the Idukki landslide that wiped out decades old four-lane housing area for tea estate workers at the Kannan Devan Hills.
“My daughters, their husbands, their children, are all gone. I had six grandchildren. I would feed them whatever little we had; all are gone,” she moans.
Vijay Lakshmi, 50, who works at a tea estate close to the landslide site, lost her daughter and two grandchildren, besides 26 other people she knew. She only got to know about it the next morning. “There was no mobile connectivity, no electricity…It was difficult to even reach this place; everything is lost,” she says in a soft voice.
Amid incessant rainfall, the search operations in the hills of Idukki, involving around 300 personnel from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the police and the fire department has been extremely challenging.
“The boulders are so big that we had to blast them to even be able to proceed with the search operations. The pile-up is around 20 feet high. To excavate that itself is going to take a few days at least. We are prepared for natural disasters during monsoon period, but this is massive,” NDRF Commandant Rekha Nambiar told NDTV.
Munnar Sub-Collector S Prem Krishnan says it’s the intense rainfall over a short span of period that triggered the massive landslide in Munnar.
“Munnar has been experiencing heavy rainfall for a month, but last week was very intense. Rainfall that would usually be spread over a month in August was concentrated in just one week. In fact, locals say they used to consider this area safe and would shift here during usually heavy spells of rainfall,” Mr Krishnan told NDTV.