Idukki (Kerala): At least 14 people were killed and over 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 this high-range district in Kerala early Friday, police and officials said.
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.
Twelve people have been rescued and efforts were underway amid continuing rains to locate at least 52 others missing in the first major rain-related mishap since the onset of South West monsoon last month that brought back memories of havoc caused by floods in the previous two years in the state.
The state government said teams of National Disaster Response Force personnel have been deployed for the rescue operations and also sought an Indian Air Force helicopter.
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.
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.
Idukki DistrictCollector H Dinesh said that the bodies of the victims had been retrieved and 12 have been rescued with injuries and shifted to hospital.
“Most of the people are plantation workers and from neighbouring Tamil Nadu”, he said.
Meanwhile, the India Meteorological Department has sounded a red alert for Idukki on Friday, indicating extremely heavy rains of over 20 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.
The injured have been rushed to Tata General Hospital.
Police and Fire force personnel and local people first took up the rescue operations amid the rains while the NDRF teams were deployed soon.
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.
“At least 200-300 people live there. There are many lanes and a canteen at the location. Since one of the bridges to that area was destroyed last night, it has become difficult to access the region,” he said.
The state health department has dispatched 15 ambulances and a special medical team to provide medical assistance to the victims of the landslide.
The office of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said it has contacted the Indian Air Force seeking its helicopter for the rescue mission.
“The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has been deployed for the rescue operations in Idukki. The team was already stationed at the district. Another NDRF team is also being moved to Idukki,” Vijayan said in a Facebook post.
Defence sources said a helicopter wasready at the Southern Air Command in Thiruvananthapuram, but was waiting for the weather to clear.
Besides in Idduki, the IMDalso 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 continuing 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 in these districts.
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.
Several families have been shifted to camps after flood waters entered residential areas in Muvattupuzha, Kothamangalam, Kochi and Parvur taluks of Ernakulam district.
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.