2 wks after disaster, Kodagu residents fear going back

NDRF personnel look for bodies at the site of a landslide in Thora village, Virajpet taluk in Madikeri. Five people are still missing after the landslide. DH Photo/B H Shivakumar

As the search for five more bodies buried under the landslide continues in Thora, survivors who returned from a relief camp on Sunday evening are in the grip of fear and spent sleepless nights.

"A light drizzle in the morning shook me so much that I packed a pair of clothes for the three of us, threw a water bottle into the bag and rushed out. The next moment, I heard a lightning strike and ran into the house with my daughter," said K R Yashodha, who lives a few yards away from the Kunjimottee hill range, which was the first to collapse following heavy rain.

From August 6  to 12, Virajpet taluk received 916.90 mm rain, 739% higher than the normal rainfall of 109.30 mm. At Thora, residents saw the only bridge connecting the village to Virajpet submerged under two feet water on August 8 and hoped the situation would improve a day later. 

"On Friday (August 9), there was a muffled roar like that of a helicopter. I was looking up to the sky till I heard some people screaming and running from the village. We just ran with them," said K P Chandravati Ponnappa, whose house is located about 8 km from the site of the landslide.

The landslide wiped out everything in its way, including houses and coffee estates. About 30 NDRF personnel were digging nearly 20 feet deep in search for the five persons presumed dead. 

"It's day 12 of the operation and we are working with six excavators. We have five more bodies to recover and a huge area to search," Udit Kumar Dikshit, inspector of the 10th battalion of NDRF said, showing sludge-filled land of about 20 hectares. 

Most of the villagers are agriculture labourers who have gone without work for nearly two weeks. Lalitha K M Devaiah, who had returned from the relief camp, said she has earned Rs 300 after 12 days. 

"I grew up in Galibeedu (in Madikeri) which was hit by landslides last year. I told my friends that I saw them on TV. This year, they told me the same. It's as if disasters have become a normal affair. For the last 27 years that I lived in Thora, I don't remember spending a night full of fear. I hope the rains stop but what's going to happen to us after that? As the coffee plants have shed all the beans, I don't think we will find jobs," she said.

Sunil Poonacha, who has returned from Bengaluru to help fellow villagers, said those in Thora have enough food to last a month. "Beyond that, they would require about 25 kg rice and other materials. They are unlikely to find work for next three months," he said.

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