Munnar landslide: 24 children missing; search on amid heavy rains
Work to recover the bodies of hapless plantation labourers, who were buried in the landslide at Rajamalai in Munnar in Idukki district of Kerala, continued on Saturday (August 8) amid inclement weather as rescuers fought untenable terrain and poor transport and communication connectivity to find the missing persons.
So far, 27 bodies, including those of three children, have been recovered and another 40 people are yet to be rescued.
Locals of Munnar along with National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel are continuing the search for the missing persons, including children.
Most of those caught in the landslide were poor Dalit migrants from Tamil Nadu who were working in the tea plantation in the region. Heavy rain in the area has affected communication and transportation.
“A total of 24 children from six schools in Munnar have been trapped under the debris. We have prepared a complete list of the people who are missing,” said G Sojan, a teacher at Fatima Mata High School in Chinnakkanal. Three girls and two boys from his school are among the trapped.
All five students were studying in Class 10. “A team of volunteers have gone to Mankulam for a search operation in the river. There is a stream originating from Rajamala and flowing towards the east. As the rain continues, the chances of bodies being washed away in the stream cannot be ruled out,” says Sojan.
Seven students from Little Flower Girls High School and one from GVHS in Munnar have also not been found. Another student from St Mary’s UP School Marayur, two students from Caramalagiri Public School, three students from ALPS Rajamalai also are there among those missing.
Most of these children would not have had this awful fate if there had been no COVID-19 outbreak. “All these children, except those who were in the lower primary school, were staying in hostels in Munnar. They all went home when the hostels were shut due to the pandemic,” says Sojan.
Sojan’s son Allan, a third-year B Com student, has also been into the rescue operations since Friday. “When he came back home yesterday (August 7), there were a lot of leeches on his body and he was bleeding, but he went today (August 8) too hoping that he could rescue someone alive,” Sojan said.
“We walked around 20 km along the riverbank. The bodies might have floated through the stream,” says Charles, a tour operator in Munnar who was a part of the team of 16 volunteers carrying out the search operation.
Charles and his teammates recovered six dead bodies on Friday. They say the recovered bodies had been moved to a shed.
“There is only one clinic and no big hospital nearby. This clinic also is run by KDHP (Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company, which runs the plantation). The nearest big hospital is the one in Munnar,” says Sojan. A makeshift arrangement is being done in the clinic and postmortem is being conducted there.