On Monday morning, a small crowd gathered at the St Mary's Church in Bhoothanam in Malappuram district. The bodies of two young children were kept in caskets next to each other. While four-year-old Anagha's face was visible, her cousin, eight-year-old Aleena, was fully wrapped. The bodies were kept in the church for around an hour for people in the area to pay their respects; and then the two caskets with the two sisters were lowered into one grave.
The two sisters and their siblings used to sleep on the same bed every night, hugging each other, and their parents wanted them to leave the world the same way – lying together.
Anagha and Aleena died in the massive landslide that almost wiped off the tiny Kavalappara village, 25 km from Nilambur town. On Thursday night, the landslide destroyed almost 40 houses in the Muthappankunnu hill in Kavalappara. Victor and Thomma’s (Thomas) house was at the very top – there were no houses above theirs. The two brothers – a carpenter and a painter – their wives, and five children, lived in the tiny house.
When the ground beneath them gave way, Thomma was away. Victor and the two women ran, and managed to bring out three of the five children, including a two-month-old infant. But Anagha and Aleena were trapped.
Within a couple of hours, Victor came back with a few others to look for the two girls. They could hear Aleena’s faint cries and started digging. "They dug for many hours, but could not reach the kids,” says Ayyappan, a resident of Kavalappara, “Moreover, it was too dangerous.”
Victor returned on Friday morning at 10 am to look for them once again, and they managed to pull out Anagha from the rubble. "We thought she had a faint heartbeat and she was taken to one of the houses that had been unaffected," recalls Ayyappan.
But before they could reach Aleena, a concrete slab that the girls were huddled under broke.
For almost two to three hours after, there was no way to take Anagha to a hospital. The village had been cut off as the road leading to it had been completely flooded, and no one had any phone connectivity to reach the outside world. Anagha was moved to a hospital on Friday afternoon, but she had died by then.
Thomma managed to reach his village around this time. Though his daughter had died, Thomma went with his brother to look for Aleena. Their efforts to remove the concrete slab from the roof of the house was not successful till Saturday morning. And by then, Aleena, too had died.
"They knew the exact spot where they heard her cries. This is the only reason why we could dig and find her body," says Hari who works with the Kerala Fire and Rescue Services.
So far, only 14 dead bodies, including those of the two girls, have been recovered from the site of the landslide – more than 55 bodies are believed to be under the rubble.
“It was heartbreaking to see them lie in the caskets like that,” says Shijo Mathew, Victor’s friend who works in the church. “Victor and Thomma tried their best to save them, but they just could not. We could not save them."
The two sisters, who barely left each other’s side in life, were buried together in death.