Special: Landslides rain havoc in Kerala

idukki landslide.JPG

Nature’s fury
Adimali: Two landslides in a gap of four hours at a single spot, left three dead and nine injured at Cheeyapara in Idukki district on Monday morning.
But a series of landslides across the district left a disastrous trail of tragedy. Two sisters who were asleep in their house were buried alive when the loose soil from a hillock rolled down onto their house at Painavu, the district headquarters. Two others were killed in a similar way near Painavu.
At Cheeyapara near Neriyamangalam, a minor landslide at 5.30 am saw mud spilling onto the Aluva-Munnar highway. Local residents and fire-force personnel who arrived on the scene began clearing the road. A few vehicles from Munnar got stranded and people waited for the debris to get cleared.
The scene changed within the next few minutes. The road would have been cleared in 15 minutes when around 9.30 am, another mudslide from as high as 400 feet, came hurtling down. In a few minutes there was a huge mound spread across 200 metres under which a dozen people were stranded. Three vehicles too got trapped under the debris.
While nine people were rescued, it took a few hours before the bodies of three — Devikulam taluk office driver P. Rajan (40), local resident T.Joshi (30) who was engaged in rescue operations and T.Jibin of Palakkad — were  extricated.
The bodies were sent for post-mortem. A vehicle of the Revenue Department, a Vista car and a Bolero were under the debris.
Eight makeshift shops in the vicinity were carried away by the loose soil, said locals. Since it was early morning, it was unlikely that there was anyone in the shops, said Madhavi who owned one of them. “I was in my shop when I saw the mud coming down. I fled and that’s how I saved myself,” she said.
Nine earthmovers have been engaged in search and clearing operations. Rescue operations had to be called off by late afternoon owing to the continuous rain and mist. Ernakulam Range Inspector-General K. Padmakumar who was accompanied by Aluva Superintendent of Police Satish Bino, said after a site visit that it was unlikely that  more people were stranded. “Rescue operations will begin early on Tuesday,” he said.
At Thadiyambadu near Painavu, two sisters, Josma (16) and Josmy (13), died when mud slipped from a hillock onto their house early on Monday morning. The two were fast asleep in their room. They were students of St George High School, Vazhathope. Their parents, Joseph and Beena, escaped with minor injuries.
In another landslip at nearby Nairpara, Annamma, 60, wife of Poulose, of Perumamthadathil, died when mud and rock fell on her house. At 56th Colony near Painav, Manalkuzhi Babu (52) who was sleeping in an outhouse was killed in the landslip as also Thankachan M. (56), in another incident at Maniyarankudy.
Late on Sunday night, a couple, Varikkayil Pappachan (78) of Kunjuthanni and his wife Thankamma (73) died when their house was flattened by a landslip.
According to officials, landslides occurred at 17 spots in the district. Meanwhile, Idukki District Collector Ajit Patil said all revenue officials had been asked to work on Tuesday though it was a holiday. He also requested people to restrict the use of mobile phones to avoid the network getting jammed.(with inputs from Kottayam)
Timely action by locals

Kochi: Timely intervention by local residents helped save some of those who were trapped in the debris that piled up following the landslide in Cheeyappara. 
The three dead bodies and nine injured were taken out from the debris within 15 minutes of the landslide, thanks to their effort.
“The local residents did a great job. We were also ready to meet any bad conditions. Each police station had a list of earth movers and tipper lorries which could be pressed into service in case of a calamity,” said Ernakulam range inspector-general K. Padmakumar. Adimaly, Neryamangalam and Munnar police were ready to bring in tipper lorries and earth movers.
Officers of the police, forest, fire and rescue departments along with medical staff and local residents had a tough time moving a portion of the debris amidst the heavy showers till 5.30 pm.
Though at one time the police had even mulled halting the operations due to very heavy showers, the possibility of someone still stranded in the debris got them going. Officers of the armed reserve camp at Kottayam and Ernakulam also arrived to support the operations.
Communication channels went down in the area in the rain havoc. Anticipating this, police had brought a mobile wireless unit for communication between government offices and police stations. High-beam light systems were also brought to the location by evening.
Here, it’s a regular feature
Adimali: Nature has always been cruel to Adimali which has loose soil that slips when there is a heavy monsoon.
The last most tragic one was on July 22, 1997, when 18 people were killed in a major landslide at four different locations in the vicinity. That too was a Monday when landslides occurred at Pazhampallichal, Ozhuvathadam, Valara and Cheeyappara in quick successions, isolating Munnar from rest of the state.
Among the 18 killed then, included six women and a one-and-a-half-year-old baby girl Twenty four escaped with quite serious injuries. Like during this landslide, rescue operations were then hit by heavy showers and movement of men and materials was badly affected. 
A decision that saved their lives
 

                                                               Syed Mohammed
Adimali: Syed Mohammed and his son, Ajas, stood in shock as they watched their Vista car disappear in the landslip. It was only moments earlier that Syed had decided to come out of the vehicle and take a walk with his son.
Syed who runs a vehicle on contract for KSEB was on his way back to Kothamangalam after visiting relatives at his ancestral house in Adimali. When he realised that he was stranded, he parked his car by the wayside and stayed put in it with his son.
However, those engaged in search operations requested him to move his vehicle further back, which he obligingly did. But this time he decided to take a walk with his son. “We had just walked a few metres when mud came gushing down the hills and took our car with it,” said Syed.
“My son and I are safe. The loss of our vehicle is so insignificant. My wife and my child are waiting for us at home,” he said. 
CIAL closed after flood waters enter runway

                                                     Cochin international airport
Kochi: For the first time since it came into existence, the Cochin international airport was forced to shut operations for one-and-a-half days on Monday with flood waters from Periyar reaching its runway.
Water level in Periyar began to rise steadily since last evening due to heavy rains and opening of dam shutters including those  of Idamalayar dam.
The floodwater filled the canals and low-lying areas in Aluva and adjoining areas including Nedumbassery where the airport is situated. The airport operations were disrupted from morning itself with the taxiway and parking bays getting flooded forcing the CIAL authorities to close the runway by 10.30 a.m.
Initially the closure was enforced till 2 pm but since the flood situation did not show any improvement, the CIAL management was forced to extend airport closure till 3.20 pm on Tuesday and cancel all flights to the airport.
CIAL in a release informed that passengers should contact the respective airlines for all airline-related information and on-flight cancellation / rescheduling and rebooking / confirmation and other arrangements.
In all, 302 passengers on Saudi Airways' Kochi-Riyadh afternoon flight on Monday were accommodated at hotels in Nedumbassery. A total of 15 international flights were cancelled since Monday morning. In the domestic sector, 28 flights were cancelled after 10.30 a.m.
The airport has opened an emergency centre with telephone nos. 3053500; 30535212; 30535213; 30535214 and 2610094 for assistance to the passengers and relatives.
Gadgil Report returns to haunt Idukki
Thiruvananthapuram: A small part, at least, of the Madhav Gadgil Report has turned out to be dreadfully true. Gadgil and team had notified Devikulam taluk in Idukki as a region of “highest ecological sensitivity” and had included it in the ecologically sensitive zone (one) (ESZ I). Cheeyapara, where the landslide was most severe, is at the heart of Devikulam taluk.
Ironically, the sharpest criticism directed at the Gadgil Report in the state had originated in Idukki district. “But now, with this tragedy, I hope there will be a rethink”, said Dr T.V.Sajeevan of the Kerala Forest Research Institute. He said  the Gadgil Report had directly addressed the ecological issues of a landslide-prone Idukki.
“The report recommended that the cultivation of annual crops like rice and tapioca should be discouraged on slopes of more than 30 degrees. It is no secret that the frequent disturbance of the soil as a result of cultivating temporary crops is one of the major causes for landslides in the area,” Dr Sajeevan said.
Dr V.S. Vijayan, a Gadgil Committee member, said the report had also discouraged mono-cropping, which was prevalent in Idukki. Cardamom and coffee dominate Idukki’s landscape.
Dr Vijayan said the report had also recommended that the catchment areas of hydel reservoirs should be protected. “On a closer look, we had found that the catchment areas of hydel projects in Idukki had been encroached upon,” he said.
Environmental activist Tony Thomas said that unbridled development which Gadgil had sought to rein in, had stripped Idukki of its grasslands. “These grasslands had huge retentive capacity and allowed water to seep deep down and recharge the water table,” he said.  
However, G. Sankar of the Centre for Earth Science Studies argued that the frequency of landslides had reduced. “The earth caved in on Monday after holding out for such a long time. It gave in only after days of continuous rain, after the soil ach­ieved a super-saturated state,” he said. “This means that we have been taking adequate steps to mitigate the effects of erosion,” he argued.
‘It’s a figment of imagination’

Collector Sheik Pareeth,MLA Benny Behanan and others visit flood hit areas at Thuruth near Aluva on Monday. —DC
Kochi: Fr Sebastian Kochupurackal, chairman of the Western Ghats Peoples Forum (WGPF) dismissed as a figment of imagination, the claims of some environmentalists that the landslides in Idukki were the result of gross misuse of the ecologically sensitive zone.
He said that Monday’s landslide occurred at Valara near Cheeyampara which was within the forest area and there were no dwellings nearby. “When we had a drought last year, it was also termed man-made. How can one give the same reason for two diametrically opposite natural disasters?” he asked.
Fr Kochupurackal further said that the infamous floods of 1924 (Malayalam year 1099) had washed away the then Kochi-Munnar road completely. “There were not many human settlements in the High Ranges at that time. Then how can we blame human settlements for such disasters?” he asked.
The priest, however, added that he would welcome steps to sensitise people about ecological concerns but such concerns should be shared by all people, including those living in low lands as well, as in his view, filling paddy fields had far more serious consequences. 
Minister’s house inundated

                                     Residents leave a flooded house in Pala. —DC
Kochi: PWD minister V.K. Ebrahim Kunju found himself stranded after floodwaters from the Periyar marooned his house at Manapuram road early Monday.
The minister and his family realised about the water logging by 4.30 am. Three hours later, water-level at his 'Periyar Crescent' was over three-feet high.The minister along with his family moved out of his residence at bylane 3 in the morning itself. They shifted to the house of his son Gafoor in Aluva Town.
“The entire area was marooned with hundreds of houses and other buildings waterlogged. Even the vehicles were completely drowned at some places. Police and fire force acted quick though there are some complaints of laxity in certain areas,” the minister later said while visiting his water-logged house.

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