The rescue team at Puthumala in Kerala’s Wayanad district is still scrambling to find the bodies buried under the clay-like and mud debris brought down in the massive landslide on August 8. So far, the team has recovered 10 bodies since the rescue operation started on August 9, despite the unfavourable weather conditions. But for the last three days, no bodies have been recovered, and seven persons are still reported missing.
The district officials intensified the search for the two women and five men who have been buried under almost 20 feet deep of debris since August 8, but in vain thus far.
A pack of sniffer dogs were deployed on Wednesday, although in the evening by 7 pm, the search operations had to be halted due to the rains, Chandran, member of Meppadi panchayat, told TNM. Puthumala is located in Meppadi panchayat.
“About 15 earthmovers were also brought to remove the mud, but the search was hampered due to the depth of the earth and the marshy terrain,” says Chandran.
“When the entire mountain crumbled in the heavy rains, it brought down with it trees, boulders and mud, which travelled more than two kilometres. The debris is now spread across 200 metres, with a depth of more than 20 feet,” he explains, while describing the intensity of the landslide that hit Pachakkadumala in Puthumala.
According to Wayanad Sub-Collector Umesh K, the Uralungal Labour Contract Co-operative Society Ltd (ULCCS) is mapping the entire area through GPS (global positioning system). Currently, as per the mapping, eight locations in Puthumala are their focus and search operations are being carried out in these areas. Equipment for radar technology is also being commissioned from the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI).
“We don’t know if the bodies have been carried into Arunapuzha river in Wayanad. Some bodies could have reached Nilambur through the river,” adds Chandran.
Meanwhile, the district officials and Kerala Health Minister KK Shailaja will hold a meeting on Thursday evening to discuss the situation. They will also meet the family members of the seven missing persons to discuss the further course of action.
As the landslide washed out a significantly large portion of the Puthumala village, only eight out of 63 houses in the region remain now.
On Monday, the officials also rescued about 40 migrant workers stranded in Ranimala estate, near Puthumala. Cut off from the mainland due to the landslides, the forest officials had to make temporary bridges using trees and ropes to reach the estate area. “The route involved trekking for 3 kilometres and crossing two streams (which had become free-flowing rivers) to rescue them. After six hours, all workers were rescued,” Umesh said.
Currently, the death toll due to the rains in Kerala stands at 103. The highest number of deaths is in Malappuram at 42, followed by Kozhikode at 17 and Wayanad at 12 . A total of 1,80,164 people (56,452 families) are in relief camps. There are 1,091 relief camps currently operating in the state.