In Kerala’s twin tragedies local residents were first on the scene and saved lives

Published : August 08, 2020 21:28 IST

The site of the tea estate workers' quarters at Pettimudy, Rajamala, near Munnar in Idukki district after the landslide on August 6-7 night. Photo: BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Kerala is still under the shock of the twin tragedies that happened one after another within hours on August 6-7, even as the State was facing intense rain and the continuing spread of COVID-19 in all districts.

Nearly 12 hours before the Air India Express Vande Bharat flight from Dubai with 190 passengers, including seven crew members, skidded and fell off the runway at the Kozhikode airport, at least 24 people were killed after a ferocious monsoon landslide buried over 20 houses belonging to estate workers at Rajamalai near the tourist town of Munnar in Idukki district.

At least 50 still lay buried under the debris even on the second day of the tragedy, as the State continued to face torrential rain, flooding and landslips in the northern districts, for the fourth continuous day on Saturday.

Unlike the Kozhikode airport tragedy, it took nearly nine hours for the outside world to know about the fate of the workers’ settlement at Pettimudi, an inaccessible village about 25 km from Munnar.

Rescue work was hampered for hours because of heavy rain, fog, falling trees and debris and the fear of more landslides. But here, too, an amazing rescue effort was undertaken initially by local people and official agencies, many of the rescuers risking their lives and the danger of COVID-19 infection.

The State government announced an immediate relief of Rs.5 lakh to each family of the dead and has promised to meet the treatment costs of all those who were in hospitals. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also said that the relief announced was an "immediate" measure and that the government was committed to providing all further help to survivors to continue their lives beyond the tragedy.

In Kozhikode, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri announced an interim relief of Rs.10 lakh each to the families of those who died in the air crash, Rs.2 lakh each to those who are critically injured and Rs.50,000 each for passengers with minor injuries.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan (who along with Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and some other Ministers also visited Kozhikode today) too announced an additional relief of Rs.10 lakh for the families of the deceased. The government is to meet the treatment costs of all the passengers. The State will also provide more assistance if needed, he said.

The Chief Minister said there was a total of 184 passengers and six crew members in the flight. Eighteen passengers, including 14 adults and four children, died in the incident. Of the 14 adults, seven are men and seven women. The pilot, Deepak Vasant Sathe, and the co-pilot, Akhilesh Kumar, also lost their lives. There are 149 people under treatment in 16 different hospitals, of them 23 are in critical condition, the Chief Minister said. Twenty-three passengers have been discharged after being taken to hospital. Some passengers in hospitals include those from Tamil Nadu and Telangana also.

The dead have all been identified. Eight of them are from Kozhikode district, six from Malappuram district, and two from Palakkad district.

The Chief Minister said: "We have lost 18 valuable lives in the accident. Even as we feel shocked, we also feel relieved that the aircraft did not catch fire. That would have been a huge tragedy. Another reason for relief is that people could work together for rescue work in an amazing sort of way. On any such occasion, Kerala as a society, shows remarkable efficiency that can only be described as ‘astonishing’. All those concerned now say that it is very rare that rescue effort in such cases is completed so quickly. The local people and official agencies played a big role in it. As a result, we could save a lot of lives because they were taken to hospitals.

State Health Minister K.K. Shailaja, however, expressed a major concern, even while commending the rescue work. "In such situations, of course, our first priority is to save lives. Some rescue workers were indeed wearing personal protective equipment. But when such accidents occur, we see that people gather in large numbers and all that they care in that moment is to save the lives of victims. But the Health Department will now have to find out all those people and ensure their safety. All those who participated in the rescue operation must, on their own, report to the health authorities in their locality and take precautionary measures. They should all come forward for COVID testing. They should quarantine themselves immediately and come forward for tests.’"

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