Pettimudi: “This is the first rescue operation in which I have not been able to save anyone. Pettimudi will always be a source of grief for me,” says Ranjith Israel, who brought bodies of the landslide victims ashore from the rushing Pettimudi river.
No one called or asked Ranjith, a native of Vithur in Thiruvananthapuram, to be a part of the rescue operations in Pettimudi.
In the last two years, he had volunteered to take part in rescue work when Kerala was hit by floods during monsoon. He left Thiruvananthapuram for Pettimudi the moment he heard about the landslide that occurred in the early morning on August 7.
As an activist of Save Alleppey Forum, Ranjith has received special training in conducting searches in rivers. He has also excelled in body building and wrestling.
“When I got into the swamp on Friday for the rescue work, half of my legs sunk in. I was hoping that someone alive would stretch out a finger from the muddy slush to be rescued. As time passed, that hope died,” Ranjith said.
“I got into the river to search for bodies with members of the fire brigade. Six bodies were recovered. One of them was in the deepest part of the river. The heavy flow of the river and the cold water were challenging in the rescue operations,” he said.
500 people for search operation
Search operations have been continuing in Pettimudi despite heavy rains and slush. About 500 people are looking for people who were buried in the mud after the landslide on Friday, in the biggest search operation Kerala has ever seen.
While 12 people were rescued by locals on the day the disaster struck, rescue worker retrieved 52 bodies till Tuesday afternoon.
It is not clear how many people got buried in the landslide. While the Kannan Devan Hills Plantations (KDHP) Company, where the people worked, said 83 are missing, revenue officials put the figure at 78.
The district administration has decided not to end the search without finding all those who are missing after the disaster.
The Rescue Force at Pettimudi:
Police - 90, Fire Force - 78, Forest - 20, Volunteers - 113, NDRF - 52, Scuba Diving - 10, Revenue - 50, Health - 50, Panchayat - 50, IRW - 22, Tamil Nadu Welfare - 8