Idukki Landslide In Kerala Amidst Pandemic And Heavy Rains

The Idukki, Rajamala landslide amid the spike in the number of coronavirus cases and rainfall was altogether a bad news for Kerala. The unfortunate event took place on August 6, 10:45 pm, in a small village of Pettimudi, in the Rajamala ward in Munnar of Idukki district.

Rajamala includes Eravikulam National Park, and a shola forest region triggered the landslide in the national park. Rocks, slurry and sludge crashed down a distance of around 1½ km to a patch of valley in Pettimudi, crushing the single-room houses of estate workers that stood in two rows, face to face.

Given below is a video retweet by PIB Kerala, showing the rescue operation in the Rajamal area in the Idukki district.


According to officials, Pettimudi, occupied by 83 estate workers of the Kanan Devan Hills Plantation Company Private Limited, who lived in 30 single-roomed houses provided by the estate, were destroyed, thus rendering them helpless and homeless.

Last week, the district Information Office said two National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), police officers, a full unit of Idukki fire and rescue team, a team each from Kottayam, Thiruvananthapuram, along with a team which received special training are leading the rescue operations in Idukki’s Rajamala.

As per the latest reports on Sunday, the death count rose to 58, with only a handful of rescued victims. According to the district information office, the search operation is underway to find the remaining 12 persons who went missing after the landslide. Very few residents, who were away at the time, managed to escape. The officials have told that 57 other families will be relocated to a much safer area.

How did it happen?

According to the Kerala Geology Department, the geographical point which initiated the landslide has a 40° slope. Any slope which is above 20° is prone to slipping during a heavy rainfall;

  1. As per the analysis, conducted by the State Disaster Management Authority, on landslides, heavy rainfall soaks the soil on the slopes. The land with ‘higher clay content’ is capable of retaining water but not draining the excess water, eventually leading to high water pressure in the slopes;
  2. Heavy loading in the hills caused by buildings on the ‘cut and fill’ ground, without any necessary protective measures, makes the location prone to landslides.
  3. Another notable factor is that the frequent landslides, caused the course of rivers to changed, and river channels have been blocked.
Idukki Landslide In Kerala Amidst Pandemic And Heavy Rains
Rescue operation being carried out in Idukki, Rajamala, where the deadly landslide occurred. (Image Source: Twitter @PIBTvmp)

As per a news report by The Indian Express: “a cloudburst on the night of August 6 could have set off the deadly landslide in Pettimudi, Idukki which claimed nearly 70 lives of tea plantation workers and their families, said a top official.” The report further quoted that rainfall statistics put out by Pradeep John, a famous weather blogger from Tamil Nadu, the Pettimudi station, received 1842.7 mm (184 cms) rainfall from August 2-7, the highest rainfall in that period in Idukki district.

Cloudburst is a natural phenomenon wherein an extreme rainfall in a short period to a small geographical area.

New COVID-19 cases at rescue site

On August 12, an NDRF team member and a media person were tested positive. However, the source of infection could not be traced; as a result, 26 media persons involved in the story were sent into quarantine.

Extension of support and relief

On August 7, Kerala’s CM had announced financial assistance of Rs. 5 lakhs to the family of the victims.

The Chief Minister of the state, Pinarayi Vijayan, and Governor, Arif Mohammed Khan visited Pettimudi on August 13. They reviewed the situation by speaking with the survivors and looking into possible improvement measures for the region.

The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also expressed his condolences over the landslide-caused deaths and extended his helping hand by agreeing to give Rs. 2 lakhs to the victims’ family from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF).

Kerala had been experiencing heavy rainfall in the previous week, which led to floods in other parts of the state. Through his tweet, Kerala CM asked people to be prepared and avoid panics to avoid future happenings.

The Southern state of India has been a victim of various unusual heavy rain-induced catastrophe since the past few years. In 2018 a sever flood affected the Kerala, taking the life of 683 people and another 140 missing. Similarly, in 2019 around 121 deaths were reported after the state faced the wrath of monsoon.

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