As the mist clears on Friday morning in Madikeri, the people of the town are coming to grips with the devastation caused by incessant rains in Kodagu district for the past one week.
Three relief camps have been set up in Madikeri – near the Omkareshwara Temple, General Thimmaiah Public School and Maitreyi Hall – where over two hundred people have camped after leaving behind their homes. "We decided to leave Makkandur yesterday afternoon after there was a landslide. There is no road connectivity to our village for a week, so we packed our bags and trekked in the forest for over an hour before reaching the Makkandur school where a camp was set up,” recounts Kaveri (35), a survivor from Makkanduru village which was washed away on Thursday.
“We were there for a few hours and we were asked to move again by the police, this time to Madikeri,” she says.
Kaveri reached the relief camp at General Thimmaiah Public School in Madikeri on Thursday night along with her husband Subramani and three daughters – Premkala (13), Manasvi (11) and Chandana (15). "Our village is washed away. We packed our bags and left our house not knowing if we will survive," she says.
When TNM visited relief camps in Madikeri, people from several areas including Makkandur, Udayagiri, Yemmethalu, Kotagiri and Thanthipala, were housed there, with each family revealing a gut-wrenching story of leaving their belongings and their homes behind.
Scores of people are still trapped in Makkandur, Haleri, Doddanekundi Betta and Katakeri, where fresh rescue operations are underway to bring people stranded to safety. Roads have been cut off in many places due to landslides, and the incessant rains and mist are making rescue operations by air difficult.
“We still don't know where many of our friends in the village are. Some have come with us but some are still trapped there and we can't reach them over the phone. There are hills on all sides of Makkandur and the landslides and the rains have completely flooded fields in the village,” Kaveri adds.
Like Kaveri, Pushpalatha (42) and her daughter Sahana (21) decided to leave Chamundeshwari Nagar after the rains escalated on Thursday. "We have not seen rains like this for decades. Both Chamundeshwari Nagar and Indira Nagar residents decided to leave their homes for safer places," she says.
Officials at the Kodagu District Collector's office admitted that scores of people are still trapped in the district. A relief camp at the Hiriya Prathamika Shale (Higher Primary School) in Makkandur was cut off from Madikeri on Thursday evening and efforts are underway to shift hundreds of people stranded to relief camps in Madikeri. People from several villages around Makkandur are making their way to the school in the village in the hope of being rescued to safety.
The relief operations re-started on Friday morning after heavy mist led to the operations ending much before sunset on Thursday. "The visibility was affected yesterday so we are figuring out ways to conduct the relief operations early in the day today. Civil defense, NDRF officials, air force officials, police and emergency services like ambulance and fire control have been pressed into service," said Praveen Kumar, an official at the DC office.
However officials are wary of further landslides, especially on the state highway connecting villages in the district. "If we pass an area and there is a landslide there, then we are trapped. It is almost like we are landlocked from all sides. We were headed to Makkandur but en route we changed plans to go to Mukkodlu for rescue operations," says Nagendra, a civil defense official. This, after 50-60 people were seen waving from the hilly area of Mukkodlu awaiting rescue.
The rains meanwhile showed no signs of slowing down. According to the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC) 146.4 mm rain was recorded in Madikeri taluk, which is 253% more than the normal rainfall of 41.5 mm. Somwarpet taluk recorded 87.6 mm rainfall and Virajpet taluk recorded 115 mm rainfall bringing life to a halt in several places in the district.
"Everyone has seen the scary visuals aired on television yesterday. People of Madikeri are not new to rains but if you see the landslides in different parts of the town, we have seen nothing like this in decades", says Sudheesh, a volunteer helping out those in need of relief.
The residents of the district are coming together to help people stranded by the rains. In addition to relief camps set up in government schools in the district, several residents and home-stay owners have opened their doors and are taking in strangers. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has also set up a camp near the Omkareshwara Temple in Madikeri, where food is being served.