More than ten days after Puthumala in Wayanad was hit by a massive landslide following heavy rains, families of six missing persons continue to wait for news about their loved ones. On Sunday, as search operations continued, the body of a man was recovered from Soochipara waterfalls, about six kilometres from Puthumala, a hill in the Western Ghats, which crumbled on August 8. The body, which appeared to be washed away in the landslide, was recovered downhill - 1000 feet below from where the landslide took place. It is believed that the current of water must have taken the body downstream.
The man’s body, however, was in an unrecognisable condition, given it was highly decomposed at the time of retrieval. This has led to confusion among relatives of those missing over the identity of the victim.
Unrecognisable body recovered from Kerala landslide, DNA samples taken after two families claim body.— Neethu Joseph (@neethujoseph_15) August 19, 2019
(Visual credits: I&PRD Wayanad) pic.twitter.com/kjtAE6IDlp
In fact, officials had told earlier TNM that several bodies that have been recovered from landslides in Kerala are so decomposed that it is a challenge to identify even the gender of victims. Doctors very often have had to identify the gender of landslide victim based on their undergarments.
Chandran K, who is Meppadi gram panchayat President and ward member of Puthumala told TNM that the body recovered on Sunday was initially identified to be 54-year-old Annayan by his son, son-in-law and close friends. On identification, it was handed over to the family.
“A post mortem was conducted and the body was taken for cremation. In between the rituals, some district administration officials including the sub collector reached the spot and said that they have received a petition from the family of a Pollachi native and 24-year-old Gowrisankar with doubts that the body might be his,” said Chandran.
With confusion prevailing over the identity of the victim, the body was shifted to DM Wayanad Institute of Medical Sciences in Meppadi. A press release issued by Wayanad district administration also stated that Annayan’s family agreed to take a DNA test.
According to panchayat officials, the blood samples of relatives of five men who had gone missing in the landslide was taken on Monday morning. “The samples will be transported to Forensic Science Lab in Thiruvananthapuram as per the direction of Superintendent of Police of Wayanad. We can expect to get the result within two to three days,” stated sub collector Umesh K in the official release. As of Monday, six persons continue to be missing following the August 8 landslide. According to officials, ten people have been killed in the Puthumala landslide.
While intensive search operations have been going on in Puthumala, a parallel search operation was being carried out by NGO Karunya in areas downhill, which resulted in the discovery of the body from Soochipara waterfalls. With hopes that more missing people could be found from the downhill region, the official rescue team has also started their search operations there from Monday morning. A special team of 12 people, including officers of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Fire and Rescue and Forest Department officials has started search in Soochipara area. Search operations will also continue in the landslide spot in Puthumala using earthmovers.