Idukki landslide spreads gloom in a village near Tirunelveli

55 persons who lost their lives had relatives in Bharathi Nagar

Updated - August 29, 2020 01:43 am IST

Published - August 08, 2020 06:57 pm IST - Tirunelveli

Grieving members of a family who have lost their loved ones in the Iddukki landslide at Bharathi Nagar near Kayathar on Saturday.

Grieving members of a family who have lost their loved ones in the Iddukki landslide at Bharathi Nagar near Kayathar on Saturday.

Ancestors of many residents of Bharathi Nagar had moved to a tea estate in an inaccessible terrain close to Rajamalla in Idukki district a century ago. As there was no scope for farming operations in the dry region of Kayathar owing to lack of water resources, residents of Bharathi Nagar near Kayathar were lured by a broker to the tea estate at Pettimudy near Rajamala. As he promised the villagers free housing, free power, free water, free ration, free medical facilities etc., the residents believed that the tea gardens along the Western Ghats would make their future bright.

When the first generation got a decent income, it lured the next generation towards the ‘greener pastures’. On retiring from the tea estate, the elders would return to Bharathi Nagar while their children continued to work in the estate. Most of their wards lived in Bharathi Nagar so that they could attend school.

But, on Thursday night, the green pastures proved to be a death trap. The residents woke-up to a rude shock that one of the worst landslides had buried alive their relatives. Gloom descended on the small hamlet as it had lost 55 persons as confirmed by the revenue officials. The residents however say that at least 72 persons, mostly their relatives, have been killed in the tragic landslide.

“Since educational institutions are yet to open owing to COVID-19 lockdown, most of the children were with their parents in the tea estate only to be buried on the fateful night,” says Antony, Kayathar town secretary of Puthiya Thamizhagam, who has lost 15 close relatives in this tragedy.

A girl student, who is residing in her grandparents’ house in Bharathi Nagar and studying in Class 10 and could not go to the tea estate despite the prolonged holiday as she could not get e-pass, has lost her parents, an elder brother and two younger sisters. The family of 60-year-old Shanmugaiah lost 12 persons including his children and grandchildren.

“Nature did not spare even 25-year-old Seethalakshmi and her 2-day-old son,” says Mr. Antony.

One of the victim Panneerselvam’s cousin Rekha could not digest the death of her relatives. “We went to Muneeswaran temple in Pettimudy in March 2019 to tonsure the head of my son. I spoke to my uncle and my cousins over the phone even last week,” Ms. Rekha recalls while wailing inconsolably.

Fifty-five-year-old Karuppaayi, who came out of her house in the tea estate and was walking towards the nearby toilet, has been rescued with multiple fractures. “I heard an unusual noise amidst incessant rains, I ran towards the house and alerted my husband. Even before he could awake our children, the landslide struck. I’m here in the hospital and I’m yet to see my family members again,” she reportedly told the hospital staff, according to her relatives in Bharathi Nagar, who believe that the family of Karuppaayi has also been buried.

Retrieving the body of victims will be a herculean task and the relatives here say that the bodies may be buried there itself.

Like Bharathi Nagar, nearby Govindapuram, Pillaiyarnaththam and Thalaiyaalnadanthaankulam villages have also lost their near ones.

Though shell-shocked relatives of the deceased have left for Pettimudy in two vans immediately after getting information about the tragedy, the elders in Bharathi Nagar say that the vans have been stopped at Tamil Nadu – Kerala border due to COVID-19 pandemic.

“After a few hours, one of the two vans was allowed to go to the spot. As they reached the spot, 26 bodies recovered from the mishap site were buried there and efforts are on to trace the missing,” says Mr. Antony.

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