At least 15 people were killed and 50 others feared trapped in debris after a landslide triggered by heavy rains flattened a row of dwelling units of tea estate workers at Pettimudi in the high-range Idukki district in Kerala early on Friday, police and officials said.
The incident is said to have occurred in the wee hours when a huge mound of earth fell on the "row houses" and two children and five women were among the deceased, most of whom were plantation workers from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.
Fifteen bodies have been recovered so far and five injured have been rushed to the Tata General Hospital.
Fifteen relief camps were opened in Idukki by Friday evening, with 513 people from 147 families being shifted there.
Police and fire service personnel rushed to the spot and the district administration has asked hospitals in the region to stay prepared. The state government said teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel have been deployed for the rescue operations and also sought an Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the state government will give 5 lakh as compensation for families of those who died and the treatment cost of the injured will be borne by the state.
Compensation of Rs 2 lakh each from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) will be given to the next of kin of those who lost their lives due to the landslide and Rs 50,000 each to those injured, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a tweet.
"May the injured recover quickly. NDRF and the administration are working on the ground, providing assistance to the affected," PM Narendra Modi said in a tweet.
Pained by the loss of lives due to a landslide in Rajamalai, Idukki. In this hour of grief, my thoughts are with the bereaved families. May the injured recover quickly. NDRF and the administration are working on the ground, providing assistance to the affected.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) August 7, 2020
Idukki District Collector H Dinesh said the bodies of the victims had been retrieved and 12 have been rescued with injuries and shifted to hospital. "Most of the people are plantation workers and from neighbouring Tamil Nadu," he said. The state Health department has dispatched 15 ambulances and a special medical team to provide medical assistance to those affected by the landslides in Idukki.
Kerala CM has requested assistance from Indian Air Force for the rescue operation. pic.twitter.com/yWmwXHUxEz
— ANI (@ANI) August 7, 2020
The tragedy came to light after a forest watchman informed authorities about the landslide as communication lines have been down in the area since the past three days. Police and fire force personnel and local residents first took up the rescue operations amid the rains while the NDRF teams were deployed soon.
Munnar MLA S Rajendran earlier said it was difficult to reach the spot as a bridge providing access to the area was washed away in the rain.
"At least 200-300 people live there. There are many lanes and a canteen at the location. Since one of the bridges to that area was destroyed last night, it has become difficult to access the region," he said.
The office of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said it has contacted the IAF seeking its helicopter for the rescue mission.
"The NDRF has been deployed for the rescue operations in Idukki. The team was already stationed at the district. Another NDRF team is also being moved to Idukki," Vijayan said in a Facebook post.
The rains in hilly areas have caused a sudden rise in the water level in rivers Periyar and Muvattupuzha flowing through Ernakulam district, which was among the badly hit during the 2018 deluge that claimed over 400 lives and left lakhs of people homeless in the state.
(With inputs from agencies)