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15 killed in Kerala landslide, over 50 reported missing

Idukki (Kerala): At least 15 people were killed and around 50 others feared trapped in debris after a landslide triggered by heavy rains flattened a row of dwelling units of tea estate workers at Pettimudi in Rajamala in this high-range district in Kerala early Friday.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said 15 people who got trapped in the debris were rescued and a special officer has been appointed to coordinate the relief operations.

The incident is said to have occurred in the wee hours when a huge mound of earth fell on the "row houses" and two children and five women were among the deceased, most of whom were plantation workers from neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

Efforts were underway amid continuing rains to locate the missing people in the first major rain-related mishap since the onset of South West monsoon last month that brought back memories of devastation caused by floods and landslides in the previous two years in the state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi expressed anguish at the loss of lives in the landslide.

Cooking utensils buried in mud, asbestos and tin sheets strewn around were all there to be seen at the area, which was the habitation of around 80 odd workers at the picturesque area near a tea plantation, about 30 kms from the tourist town of Munnar. Big boulders are also scattered around the site.

Teams of National Disaster Response Force personnel were on their way to Pettimudi for joining the rescue operations and the government has also sought an Indian Air Force helicopter to assist in the mission, Chief Minister said.

Crime Branch IG Gopesh Agarwal has been appointed as special officer for coordinating the rescue and rehabilitation operations in Pettimudi, Vijayan said.

Condoling the death of workers in the tragedy, the Chief Minister announced initial solatium of Rs 5 lakh each for the kinof the dead. Treatment expenses for the injured will be borne by the government, he said.

The Prime Minister's Office said in a tweet that an ex- gratia of Rs 2 lakh each from the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund (PMNRF) would be given to the next of kin of those killed in the landslide.

Rs 50,000 each would be given to those injured.

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