Kozhikode: Over 40 people have so far lost their lives and many are missing in the twin tragedies -- landslide at Pettimudi in Idukki and a plane crash at the Karipur airport in Kozhikode -- that hit Kerala on Friday.
The landslide at Pettimudi had occurred in the wee hours of Friday following torrential rains in the region. As of Saturday evening, bodies of 23 people had been recovered from the debris of the landslides and 12 people were rescued.
As per the reports, 78 people -- most of whom were tea plantation workers from neighbouring Tamil Nadu -- were feared trapped under the debris that flattened 30 houses belonging to workers. Efforts to locate the missing were underway amidst adverse weather conditions.
On Saturday morning, two teams of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) initiated search and rescue operations. A team of officials led by state power minister MM Mani and revenue minister EP Chandrasekharan are camping at the site to lead the rescue operations.
“On Friday night we had recovered two bodies. Today we retrieved five more. With this the toll has gone up to 20. There was some confusion regarding the total number of persons at the location at that particular point of time. It seems like some people were not present and some had come visiting,” Idukki District Collector H Dinesh told PTI.
As per the records available with the district administration, 43 people are still missing. He added that 12 people were rescued on Friday and are receiving treatment.
The picturesque landscape of Pettimudi was flattened into a rough patch of boulders and mud with parts of asbestos and tin sheets seen scattered around.
In the four-month-long Southwest monsoon season, which began in June first week, Kerala reported a total of 51 deaths till Thursday night due to various incidents of drowning, landslides, and tree fall.
Meanwhile, red alert was issued in four districts -- Idukki, Wayanad, Thrissur and Palakkad. According to the State Disaster Management Authority, Kerala received an average rainfall of 95 mm in the past 24 hours while Vadakara in Kozhikode recorded 32.7 cm of rain, the heaviest in the state. Vaythiri in Wayanad received 19.3 cm of rain while Peerumedu in Idukki district 18.5 cm.
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) also issued an orange alert on August 8 to eight districts, including Pathanamthitta, Alappuzha, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Malappuram, Kozhikode. The alert is also issued on August 9 to Malappuram, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Kannur, Kasaragod and Idukki.
Local People Join in Air Crash Rescue Efforts
There was widespread appreciation for the speedy and coordinated efforts by local people at Karipur to help rescue operations easy after the horrible air crash on Friday. Despite rough weather and rising pandemic fear, people came out in large numbers to lend a helping hand.
On Friday late evening, an Air India Express carrying 191 people including passengers and crew skidded off the table top runway and fell more than 30 feet down, splitting the front part of the aircraft into two. A total of 18 people, including the pilot and co-pilot, lost their lives in the tragedy.
Many local people said they rushed out after hearing an unfamiliar blast-like sound.
"All that we could hear were screams all around. People were soaked in blood, some had fractures, some were unconscious," said Fazal Puthiyakath, one of the men who was among the first to rush to the spot.
Later, local people also helped in rushing the injured to nearby hospitals in Kondotty and Kozhikode. Though the airport area is a COVID-19 containment area, people forgot about the risk while joining in the rescue efforts.
“Yesterday, the fast response of local people and officials made all the difference. They braved bad weather and COVID fears to rescue their fellow beings. The long queues of people who wanted to donate blood is just one example,” said chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a tweet.
“We have seen this many times, when there is an adversity, the people of Kerala come together to fight it. Humanity, the greater goodness that binds us all, is the bedrock of our society. Let's take a moment to congratulate the people of Malappuram and Kozhikode,” said Vijayan.
Blood Donors Queue Amid COVID Fear
Several people also volunteered to clear the traffic to Kozhikode Medical College and other hospitals in Kozhikode to ensure smooth movement of ambulances. Shortly after the incident, messages seeking blood for the injured circulated in social media platforms and many, who are the part of blood donors forums and other youth organisations, have rushed to donate blood.
However, in a message at Friday night, the Kozhikode Collector had to remind the people from containment zones to refrain from blood donation.
On Saturday, health minister KK Shailaja asked the people who all were the part of rescue operations to go for self-quarantine as a precaution. As saving lives of people was the priority, many may have failed to follow COVID-19 protocols and may have come in contact with potential carriers, she added.
One passenger who died in the crash tested positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the Central Industrial Security Force has directed its personnel to go into preventive quarantine, officials said on Saturday.
"We are identifying our personnel, who rescued the passengers who have tested positive for coronavirus," CISF Special Director General (Airports) M A Ganapathy told PTI.
Another senior officer said the force had information that two passengers had tested positive for COVID-19.
Around 50 CISF personnel, who were involved in the rescue operation, and their family members have been asked to quarantine themselves, he said.
The force will also conduct COVID-19 tests of all those who were exposed, the officer said.
Another official said NDRF rescuer and other airport officials have also been asked to go into self-quarantine in view of the COVID-19 positive report of some passengers