Official apathy and a disaster by design in Wayanad

A woman walks through a rubble of houses which were destroyed by landslide at Aanoth Ammara in Wayanad district on Thursday. DH photo by Janardhan BK

"We had warned the Vythiri gram panchayat in 2005 against taking out mud from under the hillock on which our house stood. But they went ahead, sliced this hill into half to build a bus stand and commercial complex. Look how it has collapsed, taking down everything.” 

That warning by Rukhiya, 13 summers back, proved prophetic. Last week, the entire complex in the heart of Vythiri town in Kerala’s Wayanad district came crashing down. So did Rukhiya’s modest house, the ground under which was severely weakened by the mudslide. Official apathy had devastated another family.
In 2000, when she and her family of seven had built a tin-roof house, there was an old building where the complex later came up. That structure was demolished. But the bull-dozers had flattened to make more space on the roadside.
“We protested repeatedly. We told them the entire hill will cave in. But they just dismissed our pleas,” recalled the victim, now dependent on relief to stay afloat.
Reckless development had scant regard for nature’s boundaries. In the deep interiors, this was hidden from public glare. But Vythiri, the resort town, was bang on the National Highway, linking Kozhikode to Mysuru and beyond. Razed to the ground, the town’s biggest bus stand lay there, bringing out the fault lines in dramatic detail.
Barely 100 metres away, the government had built low-cost houses on land carved out from the hills. On August 8, the record rains had sparked a landslide so intense that it took out a woman’s life and flattened the entire colony. The inmates could salvage nothing. Facing an uncertain future at a nearby relief camp, they rued their fate. 
But they were grateful that they survived. Among them was Mohanan, a construction worker, who braved the devastating deluge to help rescue many from their crashing homes. “Mohanan knocked at our door at midnight, asking us to run out to safety. We could see the other houses disappear under tons of mud and slush,” recalled a colony resident. 
By 1 am, Mohanan had ensured everyone was out. But a woman, who rushed back into a house to take out a valuable, was fatally trapped.
“Since the mudslide hadn’t ceased, I too was caught for over an hour in neck-deep mud and slush. By the time, the fire brigade and volunteers rescued me, I was completely down, both mentally and physically.” 
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