At least five people were killed and several feared trapped under 30-feet-thick mud deposit in the landslide that occurred on Monday morning at Cheeyappara on the Kochi-Munnar route in Kerala’s mountainous Idukki district even as the death toll in disasters caused by torrential rains lashing the State for the past two days reached 17.
Rains had been wreaking havoc across the State since Saturday. Almost all rivers in the State were flowing above the danger mark and shutters of many of the dams had to be opened as water level in the reservoirs kept climbing rapidly. The water level in the 117-year-old Mullaperiyar dam was just 2.2 feet below the maximum safe-capacity mark of 136 feet on Monday.
The tragedy in Cheeyappara occurred with an entire hill sliding away from its base and falling on the road between near the scenic Cheeyappara waterfall Adimali and Neryamangalam. Three vehicles that were on the road when the hill fell on it were thrown away into the deep ravine and at least 20 vehicles were said to be trapped under the 30-feet thick mud, huge rocks and trees.
Police and Revenue officials and local people said the toll could be much higher as there was every possibility that the vehicles were trapped under the mud with their occupants. Some roadside shops, probably with occupants and customers, also got buried in the mud. Five bodies were recovered and five persons were rescued from the mud deposit.
Idukki district, where 14 persons were killed, bore the worst brunt of the incessant rains lashing the State since Sunday. As many as 17 landslides were reported from the district since Sunday morning. Almost all the roads passing through the district got blocked due to landslides. Crops in hundreds of acres of land were said to have been lost.
Famous hill resort Munnar in the district got cut off from the outer world as almost all roads leading there got blocked due to landslides. Old Munnar, the base for the tourist resort, remained under deluge since Sunday morning. Chief Minister Oommen Chandy appealed to people to avoid travel to the hill station.
The Chief Minister said that the Government had appealed to the Centre to make available the assistance of the Army and Air Force in the rescue operations at Cheeyappara and other parts. He said a 16-man NDRF team would reach the spot soon. The Southern Naval Command informed that a team was being sent to Idukki district for rescue operations.
The disaster at Cheeyappara occurred when work was going on to remove the mud deposited in the two minor landslides that occurred earlier. “This happened when vehicles were queuing up to pass as the road got cleared. Nobody has any clear idea as to how many vehicles could be under the mud deposit,” said Sajir, a local resident.
People living on the banks of already-swollen River Periyar were asked to be on alert as there was possibility of the water level climbing further up as more dams in Idukki district were likely to open shutters. The authorities had by Monday lifted the vents of five dams in Idukki district. Low-lying area across southern Kerala remained waterlogged since Sunday morning.
Heavy rains forced the authorities of the Kochi International Airport on Monday morning to close its waterlogged runway till Tuesday afternoon. In Aluva, the preparations for Tuesday’s Karkadaka Vavu Bali, a Hindu ritual of paying tributes to their departed dear, on River Periyar had to be suspended as the river kept swelling.
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