Mundakayam: Staying at a relief camp set up at St Antony's High School, Mundakayam East, Sunitha Satheesh looked agitated. This is not her first time at a relief camp. In 2018, during the deluge that ravaged Kerala, she and her neighbours were shifted to a relief camp as a precautionary measure as they were living along the Manimala river.
That time, when the floodwaters receded, she had a home to go back to. This time, not. Her house, along with 10 others in the neighbourhood, were washed away on Saturday as a hill behind them came crashing down as torrential rain wreaked havoc in the region at the weekend.
"Two years ago, when the great floods happened, we were shifted to a camp. We were sent back to our homes with a promise that we would be rehabilitated to a safer place. They had promised to grant us new homes within a year. Then we haven't heard anything about it. We still don't know how we managed to escape yesterday's landslide. Somehow, we, the 11 families in the neighbourhood, survived the disaster. We had to run for our life with our little children," Sunitha told Onmanorama.
"We have lost everything but what we are wearing now. All our documents too have been lost," Sunitha's co-sister added. Her house also was destroyed.
The houses were destroyed in the landslide that took place at Poovanchi in Kokkayar panchayat. The panchayat, along the Manimala river, is in Idukki district, while the areas on other side of the river falls in Kottayam district. Landslides have claimed lives and houses in Kokkayar panchayat and nearby Koottickal in Kottayam district.
The women at the relief camp did not specify who had promised to rehabilitate them following the 2018 floods, but their panchayat member Stanley Sunny said the government had promised to grant houses to those who live at Attoram Colony close to Poovanchi. The colony is situated along the river.
The local body representative said the people in the area have been facing issues like land erosion for sometime now.
No houses at Poovanchi were damaged during the 2018 floods but the people there had been living a nightmare since then.
Sini Binoy, a resident of the colony, said the people in the neighbourhood are afraid to stay there. "The soil behind our homes have started crashing since yesterday's rain. It has never happened before. We want to leave this place for more safety," she said.
The revenue authorities have advised the residents of the colony to shift to the relief camps. Many have obeyed, while some are reluctant to move.
Even those who don't want to go to the camps are afraid to sleep in their houses. "We have lost sleep with yesterday's incident. We have seen floods in the past too, but not something like this," Sheeba Joseph who lives in the colony said.
The fateful day
Recalling the shocking Saturday, Sheeba said, "It had been raining since morning and the water level had been rising. We stood watching it as we didn't sense anything unusual. However, later, the flood water came gushing down sweeping away some houses on the other side of the river. Those from the top of the hill came running to us and we helped them with clothes. Throughout all these, we were crying."
Kerala is facing extreme floods in at least three districts, and according to the state Revenue Department, at least 25 people have lost their lives in the heavy rains and landslips in the past two days. There has also been extensive damage to infrastructure.
The state government sought assistance of the armed forces after the unprecedented rains triggered numerous landslides in the hilly terrains of many rural villages and small towns.
The National Disaster Response Force is carrying out an intensive rescue operation.