It was on Monday that revenue and village officers from Idukki district had asked Benny (46) and his family to evacuate their house on the banks of the Periyar river. With the statutory warning in place about impending floods, Benny moved his family to another house, at a slightly higher elevation on the hills. But what he did not know was that a tragedy awaited them.
Around 4.00 am on Thursday, Bipin (23) received a frantic call from his wife Jessy. She was screaming into the phone that there had been a loud thud and slush and water had gushed into the house.
Though Jessy and her one-year-old son had suffered only minor bruises, what had scared her more was the pitch darkness around. Also, her husband's grandparents, who had been sleeping in another room were not responding to her calls. This was one of biggest landslides that Idukki had witnessed ever since heavy rains started battering the district.
Not just Jessy, but other families living on the hill slopes too had panicked as the mud, gravel and rocks made their walls come crashing down.
Subheesh, his wife, and kids, too, rushed out as soon as the landslide hit.
"A neighbour came rushing to our house and guided us to theirs. Their house had not been affected by the landslide. After dropping my kids and wife at his place, we both went to check for Jessy and others," Subheesh said.
They saw Jessy and her child, but could not find her grandparents-in-law, Elikutty and Augustine. With absolutely no light to help them in their search, they took the child and mother to safety. By then Bipin had driven down from Palayi where he had been working as a taxi driver.
"I rushed home. By the time I reached, the sun had come out and a rescue team was trying to find my grandparents," he tells TNM.
But it was too late. Elikutty (74) and Augustine (76) had been crushed to death and their bodies were recovered from beneath the rubble. Bipin's father, Benny, a man who sells traditional medicine, is devastated.
On Monday, revenue and village officers from Idukki district had asked Benny and his family to evacuate their house on the banks of the Periyar river. With the statutory warning in place about impending floods, Benny had moved his family to another house, at a slightly higher elevation in the hills.
"They told us that our house would get flooded if the dam shutters are opened. So we found a rented house. It was a proper concrete structure and I wanted my parents to stay there safely. But the landslide completely destroyed that house," he says.
Benny had been in Ernakulam the night the landslide happened. Jessy and her child are still admitted at the government hospital in Cheruthoni a few kilometres away.
"I was close to my grandparents. They brought me up. We have nothing left," says Bipin.
Their house on the banks of the Periyar, too, was destroyed in the rains. The small coconut cultivation that Eliykutty and Augustine had cherished, was swept away by the currents.
Bipin and Benny are at the Keezhikode relief camp set up by the government. But they don't know where they will go once the camp is closed.
"Most people in the camp still have their houses left. Yes, there is water and slush inside their houses, but they at least have the structure left. We have nothing to go back to. Before this camp is shut down by the government, we have to make some alternative arrangement. But we have no money. Hopefully the government will give compensation soon," Benny says.