At least 18 persons were killed and 52 others are missing after a series of landslips at the Nayamakkad tea estate at Pettimudy, near Rajamala in Idukki district, late on Thursday.
Four layams (housing lines of tea garden workers) were buried under debris as a hill nearly 3 km away from the housing lines, located in a landlocked valley, slid down. Most of the victims were asleep and were trapped under the debris.
Twelve of the 82 residents escaped, according to official figures. Three injuried workers were admitted to the Tata General Hospital at Munnar. They were Deepan, 25, Seethalakshmi, 35 and Saraswathy, 50. One seriously injured woman, Palaniyamma, was admitted to the Kolencherry Medical College.
Forest Department officials who started the rescue operations were joined by teams from the NDRF and the Fire and Rescue services. The area, which housed about 15 line quarters, was water-logged, which made rescue difficult. Incessant rain, uprooted trees and boulders on the narrow road from Rajamala to Pettimudy hampered access to the site of the landslip.
The Nayamakkad estate is located about 30 km from Munnar, adjacent to the Eravikulam National Park (ENP), and can be accessed though the national park. Since the park is closed and the bridge at Periyavarai was washed away in a flash flood, the area has been inaccessible.
Residents said they heard a loud noise with huge rocks and mud falling over one of the housing quarters around 11.30 p.m. “But the area was under a blackout and without communication network for a few days and the news of the mishap only reached outside after 6 a.m. on Friday,” said an officer.
A resident of one of other housing lines said water gushed into the lines followed by heaps of mud. “There were some 30 houses in those four lines and a club,” he said. “We were able to rescue four people alive and two families came out on their own... We could not inform the police as there was none around and with no network; we could not even contact our relatives in Tamil Nadu,” he said.
M.V.G. Kannan, Munnar DFO, said, “The bridge over the Periyavarai has now been repaired for emergency operations and BSNL connectivity, though patchy, has been restored.”
Bad weather and lack of road accessibility have hampered rescue operations, Devikulam sub-collector S. Premkrishan said. M. Mohandass, member of the nearby Luckham ward of the Munnar Grama Panchayat, said the area had never witnessed landslips and none thought it would ever occur there.
Most of the workers in the layams were from Tamil Nadu.
The victims have been identified as Gandhiraj, 48,; Sivakami,38; Vishal,12; Ramalakshmi, 40; Murukan, 46; Mayil Swamy,48; Kannan,40; Annadurai,44; Rajeswari,43; Kausalya, 25’; Thapasiyammal, 42; Sindhu, 13; Nidhish, 25; Panirselvom, 50; and Ganesan, 40.
Health Minister K. K. Shylaja said a special mobile medical team and 15 ambulances were sent to the accident spot. Directions have been issued to set up emergency hospital facilities there, she added.
Mr. Mohandass said the landslide was eerily similar to the one at Kavalappara in Malappuram last year when the area had remained inaccessible and the outer world only came to know about the massive disaster next morning.
The State Government has declared a financial assistance of ₹5 lakh each to the families of the landslip victims