Kerala Rains: At least 15 persons were killed after a river of mud and debris washed over lines of settlements of tea plantation workers near the popular hill station of Munnar in Kerala’s Idukki district Friday. A total of 15 persons have been rescued so far even as efforts are underway to find the missing, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in a press briefing.
The mudslide, caused by a bout of extreme rainfall in the area, was reported at the Nyamakad estate of the Kannan Devan Hills Plantation Company near Rajamala in Devikulam Taluk around 7 am Friday, though it is believed to have occurred late Thursday night. The debris has buried at least 30 settlements in which nearly 78 people resided.
The Chief Minister also announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to the family of those killed in the incident and said that the entire expense to treat the injured will be borne by the state government.
Reflecting on the incident, Devikulam sub-collector Prem Krishnan said, “It’s certainly a huge landslide. I got the information that a minor landslide first occurred around 10 pm last night and then subsequently more soil came loose through the night. It has been raining continuously over the past two days and there have been severe power outages in Devikulam. There was no way perhaps for people to inform others.”
When asked if the region was landslip-prone, he said, “Comparatively, (this area) in Pettimudi division is safer than other areas in Munnar. Though it’s a slopey area, it was not landslide-prone. We had never predicted a landslide here. The intensity of the rain is definitely a factor.” Read in Malayalam
Joint relief and rescue operations by the police, fire force, locals and a unit of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) which had been stationed in Idukki district, have been going on amid inclement weather. Those with minor injuries are being treated at the Tata hospital in Munnar and the critical ones are being shifted to Idukki and Ernakulam. A 50-member special task force team of the Fire Force has also been deputed to assist the NDRF in rescue work.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed that he was pained by the loss of lives due to the incident and announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the family of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to those injured. He also assured that NDRF and the administration are working on the ground and providing assistance to the affected.
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. May the injured recover quickly. NDRF and the administration are working on the ground, providing assistance to the affected.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 7, 2020
Congress leader and Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi extended his condolences to the families of those killed in the incident and requested the state government to bring those trapped to safety. He also urged Congress workers to assist in the rescue operations.
The remoteness of the area, broken power and communication lines, heavy fog and uninterrupted rainfall are all seen as factors impacting effective relief operations at the landslide site. Rescue agencies moving to the mudslide site in the initial hours of the tragedy had to take a longer route after a key bridge at Periyavara connecting to the area was found collapsed.
Due to paucity of good hospitals in the area and several roads damaged, the state government has placed a request before the Indian Air Force to use its choppers to air-lift critically injured to major hospitals in Idukki and Ernakulam, CM Vijayan said. However, reports say that the conditions in the area are not conducive for airlift operations.
These visuals are quite clear how arduous and awful the situation at the landslide site in Rajamalai is. It’s been raining without pause for 2 days with power, communication lines dismantled.(Courtesy: PRD) @IndianExpress pic.twitter.com/Rt9tp9zn0Q
— Vishnu Varma (@VishKVarma) August 7, 2020
Government agencies are reviewing the mudslide as a “major disaster”, especially if the extent of casualties, given the number of workers in those settlements, rises. In the backdrop of the landslides at Kavalappara and Meppadi during the monsoon last year that claimed over 60 lives, disaster agencies in the state have been better-prepared this time, relocating people to relief camps from landslide-prone zones in advance. The guidelines enshrined as part of the orange book of disaster management of the state are guiding local bodies to make required arrangements especially at a time when the state is in the throes of the rapidly-spreading Covid-19 pandemic.
The Met Department has issued red alerts, the highest code, for Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Idukki and Wayanad districts on Friday, indicating extremely heavy rainfall of over 204 mm. Idukki and Wayanad are hilly districts, particularly vulnerable to landslides. A low-pressure area in the Bay of Bengal is seen to have precipitated the extreme rainfall.