The sighting of a tiger has emerged as a fresh challenge for search and rescue agencies in the remote village of Pettimudi in Kerala’s Idukki district where five bodies of victims of a deadly landslide are yet to be retrieved.
Sub-collector of Devikulam taluk, S Premkrishnan said, “We spotted the tiger yesterday and day before, hardly 4-5 kilometres from the rescue site. Subsequently, the forest department has posted some guards to keep an eye on the tiger. According to them, once a tiger comes out of its territory, it is likely to linger in the area for a few days before going back. So we have to be careful.”
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“The district collector has convened a meeting today where we will be deciding whether to continue operations and if so, how to proceed,” he said.
The tiger’s presence further complicates matters for the district administration and the rescue agencies as the latter have been carrying out intense and focused searches in two sections of a nearby river where the bodies of landslide victims are found to have been washed away by the force of the debris flow. Both locations are difficult and tricky terrain for rescue personnel who are increasingly fatigued in the process.
Though the district administration had taken the position that rescue efforts would continue until the last body is found, they would have to take into account the safety of the rescue workers now that a tiger’s presence has been confirmed in the area. There are also suspicions that the rest of the bodies may have been washed down into a dam’s reservoir area down the river, from where the retrieval process would be impossible.
Pettimudi, a small hamlet nestled among tea gardens in the Western Ghats, was hit by the landslide on the night of August 6. Four rows of ‘layams’ or residential quarters of tea plantation workers and their families were buried by the landslide. While 12 people were rescued in the initial hours of the landslide, 65 bodies of the deceased have been found so far. Five more persons are missing.