How a Kodagu youth outran a landslide and lived to tell the tale

Harshith, his mother Mamatha and 14-year-old sister Likitha had moved up to the line houses located on top of Manikanda Hill in Kodagu’s Thora on Friday morning. Harshith’s father Paramesh, who works at the coffee plantations in Thora, had gone out along with their neighbor Prabhu to check whether the water levels were rising downhill.

Harshith and his family members had moved up to the line houses in order to escape the floods that were predicted by the district administration. An hour later, Harshith was standing outside the house when he heard loud rumbling noises.

“I looked up and the entire hill was coming down. I did not think. I just ran as fast as I could without looking back. I kept praying that I have the strength to outrun a falling hill. I ran for a long time and finally when there was silence behind me, I stopped and looked back. There was only mud and trees and destroyed coffee plants,” Harshith tells TNM.

Recounting the confusion he felt at the moment, Harshith, who sustained minor injuries on his arms and legs, says the first thing that hit him was guilt for not helping his mother and sister. “I just ran without thinking. I should have stayed and tried to save them. May be if we had not moved up, we could have all run out together and still been alive,” Harshith says.

When he was sure that the landslide had subsided, Harshith ran back to the site of the crash and began frantically looking for his family members. He began digging out mud with his hands when he heard noises from underneath.

“I could see someone’s hand. But it was a man’s hand. I began digging the mud out and I saw it was my friend Darshan, who was living in the line house next to the one we had moved into,” Harshith recounts. Harshith soon began digging the ground until he could free Darshan from the pile of soil and rubble.

Speaking to TNM, Darshan, who is currently at the hospital in Virajpet, says that Harshith saved his life. Darshan’s legs were fractured as a tree fell on him during the landslide.

“My friend saw me and when he removed the mud covering my face, he asked me if I could try to push as much from below. But I could not move my legs at all. He removed all the mud and also called the authorities. If he had not come there at that time, I would have suffocated. The mud was on my face and the rain was pushing it into my mouth. But he rescued me,” Darshan says.

Darshan was transported to the hospital by the NDRF team, which reached Thora on Friday morning.

After Harshith guided them to where he believed his family members were buried, the NDRF team fished out the bodies of Mamatha and Likitha. While the mother and daughter’s bodies were taken to the hospital for an autopsy, Harshith and his father Paramesh were shifted to the Virajpet relief camp.

The tragedy did not end there for Harshith’s family. On Saturday, the bodies of Mamatha and Likitha were released and the family took them to the Virajpet Government Cremation Centre. With not a single penny in their pocket, the family hoped that the funeral would be conducted free of cost in the wake of the disaster that had struck the entire district.

“We took my wife and daughter to the cremation grounds. The people there asked us for Rs 8,000 as funeral costs. When we were sent to the relief camps, we only had the clothes on our backs. We did not have any money with us. But they told us that without payment, the cremation would not happen,” Paramesh tells TNM.

Paramesh and his family members sat outside the cremation grounds for over two hours when some locals enquired what was going on. Upon learning about the apathy they suffered, local journalists were called, who in turn informed the district administration.

“We were informed about the condition the family was in and the people at the cremation grounds were directed to ensure that the funeral must happen without any delay,” Kodagu Deputy Commissioner Annies Kanmani Joy says. Upon the DC’s orders, the funeral took place on Saturday afternoon.

Paramesh is currently at Thora, helping rescue personnel unearth the bodies of eight others who are trapped under the rubble. According to the Kodagu district administration, the family members of another landslide survivor Prabhu, including Devaki (65), Anu (35) Amrutha (15) and Aditya (10), are also trapped under the rubble. In addition, another family of four including Shankar, Appu (55), Leela (45) and another woman are trapped under the debris.

The NDRF team and the Fire and Emergency Services personnel are carrying out rescue operations currently.