Union Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who stepped in early on Sunday evening to coordinate rescue operations with State agencies, told The Hindu that the crew of an Indian Air Force helicopter which surveyed the forest fires in Theni had seen people beaming torch lights to give distress signals about their presence and location.
“So we know their location exactly,” she said adding that a team of 10 commandos were being flown to the site late on Sunday and were expected to reach Madurai at 11.30 p.m. “They will travel by road for 90 km and then take an hour’s trek uphill. We will send four helicopters to the site on Monday. The rescue operations will begin immediately at daybreak,” Ms. Sitharaman said over phone from Delhi.
The Union Defence Ministry was monitoring the situation round-the-clock. A helicopter (MI 17 V5) that took off from the IAF Sulur air base near Coimbatore around 8.30 p.m. surveyed the site of the fires near Kurangani.
Ms. Sitharaman said soon after a request from the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s office, she had directed support from the Air Force’s Southern Command Headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram.
“The rescue helicopters will start from Sulur early and will reach the spot at the first light of the day. First-aid equipment will be on board and once the situation is ascertained, necessary action will be taken,” she said.
“I spoke to the Theni Collector and we have perfect coordination with the district officials. Ambulances are also positioned,” she said. Private tea estates have also lent a supporting hand to the rescue operations. Water and food were being provided.