Munnar: Eighteen bodies were recovered from debris in Rajamalai in Munnar in Idukki district that was rocked by a massive landslide early on Friday.
Twelve persons were rescued from the spot while the search operation is on to locate 48 missing..
A total of 78 people lived in the neighbourhood of tea plantation labourers in Munnar gram panchayat that lies 28km north east of the Munnar town and 20km from the Eravikulam National Park. All of them worked with Kannan Devan Limited.
According to eye witnesses, mud fell on four line houses (row of 30 linearly-constructed houses with an entrance attached to a small kitchen and a cramped space used as both living room and sleeping area) at around 4am on Friday.
"I heard a loud noise, and earth covered our house even before we could move," a survivor told Manorama News from a hospital in Munnar.
The landslide damaged mobile towers and Periyavarai Bridge that connected Rajamalai with Munnar. Hence the came to light after five hours when some of the survivors reported it to the forest station.
This delayed rescue operations too.
Heavy rain has been lashing Rajamalai and other parts of Idukki for the last 24 hours, which is believed to have caused the landslide.
Rescue operations delayed
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has appointed Crime Branch IG Gopesh Agarwal as a special officer to coordinate rescue operations.
The chief minister requested the Indian Air Force (IAF) to send helicopters for rescue operations.
District Collector H Dineshan said telecommunication network will be repaired soon. “Teams from National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) are on their way. Rescue operations will be ramped up after their arrival," the collector said.
He said all hospitals in the region are ready to provide necessary medical assistance to survivors.
Revenue Minister E Chandrashekharan said inclement weather was not conducive for airlifting the victims and survivors. "The Air Force officials informed us that they would step in when the weather improves," he said.
The minister said neighbouring districts have been asked to stay alert. "We need a coordinated effort at this time," he said.
Munnar gram panchayat president P Karuppaswamy told Onmanorama this was the first landslide to hit Rajamalai. "It was a shock for us. Rescue operations are going in full swing."
Meanwhile, the state government has appointed IGP Gopesh Agarwal as special officer to coordinate the rescue and relief operations in the locality.
A 200-member team of Kerala police and other teams from the NDRF, fire brigade, local people and volunteers have reached the spot for rescue work.
'Unable to live here'
Landslide survivors were seen waiting patiently even as rescue workers continued search operations in Rajamalai.
Some of them appear to have come to terms with the gravity of the tragedy. "We cannot live here any more as we lost our near and dear ones," said a survivor.
Kerala govt announces Rs 5 lak, PM announces Rs 2 lakh for kin of deceased
The Kerala government has announced a financial aid of Rs 5 lakh for the family members of each deceased. The state will also bear the cost of treatment for the injured.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of kin of those lost their lives in the Rajamalai landslide. Injured will be given Rs 50,000, he tweeted.
List of the deceased: Gandhiraj, 48, Sivakami, 38, Vishal, 12, Ramalakshmi, 40, Murugan, 46, Mayilswamy, 48, Kannan, 40, Annadurai, 44, Rajeswari, 43, Kausalya, 25, Thapassiyammal, 42, Sindhu, 13, Nitheesh, 25, Panineerselvam, 50, and Ganeshan, 40.