Jose has lived on the foot of the Muthappankunnu, a hill in the Kavalappara region, 25 km away from Nilambur town, for more than 40 years. Around 8 pm on Thursday, August 8, he heard a loud thud and rushed out of his house. Jose could make out that at least three houses next to his had caved in due to a landslide. But all he could see were the arecanut trees that had fallen down, lying on top of where the houses once stood.
It wasn’t until the next morning that Jose realised the extent of the devastation however. Around 40 houses – some big, some small – had been buried under what was once as a part of the Muthappankunnu hill. The homes had crumbled in the massive landslide, and a tarred road that ran across the hill had disappeared.
Since then, it has been a desperate search for those trapped under the rubble. NDRF and other government agencies have been looking for three days, along with the people who live in the area. By Sunday evening, only 12 bodies have been taken out. The panchayat says that 58 more people are under the rubble, and there is very little hope left of finding anyone alive.
"On Thursday night, we heard the cries of Kareem, a man who lives on the foot of the hills. We removed him from the rubble, but could not find his family. His leg was wounded badly, it was crushed," says Rajan, a resident. The villagers could not even move Kareem to a hospital as the roads were flooded, with water levels almost touching 4 feet at places. They tied clean cloth on his wounds and gave him a few painkillers.
It was only by Friday afternoon that they could finally take Kareem to a hospital in Nilambur. That is also when people from other parts of Malappuram, including police and other rescue teams, could even start travelling to Kavalappara.
By then, it has already been more than 16 hours since the landslide. In the next two days, 11 bodies were recovered, the first one was of Madhi and his son. Madhi's family was among the 20-odd Adivasi families that lived in Kavalappara; today there is no trace of their small houses.
On Sunday, just an hour before Rahul Gandhi's visit – Kavalappara falls in his Wayanad constituency, though is situated in Malappuram district – another body was found. It was of a woman, retrieved from where Bindu’s house was situated. However, villagers could not identify the body – there were three women who used to live there.
With the mud still loose and slushy, rescue operations have been limited to certain parts of the hill. Moreover, it has been tough to move diggers and other machinery to assist the men at work. It was only on Saturday that a digger was taken near the hill.
While the search for bodies continues, it has been a living hell for those who survived. Victor was at his house with his daughter and his niece when the landslide happened. Though Victor managed to run out, the two girls could not, and were found huddled together on Friday. Victor, his brother Thomas and others managed to bring Victor's daughter Anagha out alive, but badly injured. But by the time they could reach the other child, Elena, the concrete slab broke. It was only on Sunday that they could cut through the slab, but Elena was dead by then. And Anagha, too, had succumbed to her injuries as she could not be rushed to the hospital immediately.