When the mist-clad hillock of tea plantations rolled down and took its devastating course downstream on Thursday evening, not a single brick was left in this valley of workers and small-scale farmers. The entire pulse of this village in Kerala’s Wayanad district has been either swept away in the mudflow or buried under the turbid slurry: 60-odd houses, a temple, a mosque, a post office and a small teashop, where local residents used to huddle. Almost 24 hours after what was one of the worst landslides to occur in Kerala in recent history, Puthumala is deserted. Survivors have been shifted to relief camps at Meppadi town, 15 km away.
Eight bodies have been retrieved so far, and no one knows the exact number of missing persons. Clutching plastic carry bags, estate workers in nearby settlements are awaiting at the other end of the Puthumala valley, to be rescued.
The village and nearby areas have been isolated since Wednesday night, when the road passing through the region was blocked due to minor landslides at several places. On Thursday evening, when the landslide occurred, relief could not be rushed from outside. The magnitude of the issue only came to light after local youngsters posted videos on social media, seeking help.
Wayanad SP Karuppasamy R, who is overseeing the rescue operations, says, “Heavy rain which still continues in the region has made rescue efforts very difficult. Among the houses that washed away, were two settlements of estate workers. We don’t have the exact number of missing people. We are collecting the details from all sources to ascertain the exact number of casualties.” Gopalan P, one of survivors, recalled that he saw the hill caving in on the plantation houses. “I was standing at a nearby hilltop when a portion of the hill collapsed into the valley.”
Jagadeesh M V, a local youngster, said, “Even during the last year’s flood, this region was incident free. As there have been heavy rains in last two days, many have sought asylum in the mosque, which also collapsed.”
K K Sahad, the panchayat president of Meppadi, said, “What is left in Puthumala is only four houses. We managed to relocate several people before the tragedy struck. Several are still missing,’’ he said.