Nilambur, Malappuram: No one could describe how landslides destroy villages better than the residents of Pathar in Pothukallu gram panchayat of Kerala's Malappuram district.
Till the first week of August, Pathar looked like a typical Kerala village. Among its major landmarks were a bridge across a narrow stream, a mosque, an anganwadi, a few shops and houses. But the August 8 landslides dealt a heavy blow on Pathar, and the village is not even a shadow of what it used to be.
The landslides destroyed most of the buildings, leaving nothing but skeletons of a few structures. The devastation was such that the residents could not even identify the location of certain buildings. The village has been turned into a barren land filled with boulders, tree trunks and concrete pieces. Luckily, the people of Pathar are all alive, only to tell extraordinary tales of devastation and survival.
Landslides struck Pathar around 5:30pm on August 8 (Thursday), a few hours before a series of landslides claimed scores of lives and destroyed houses at nearby Muthappankunnu in Kavalappara. Pathar is four kilometres away from Kavalappara.
Hundreds of Pathar residents had a miraculous escape as they ran to safety when they got hints of the impending disaster. Some saw rising water level in the stream, while others noticed the loud noise.
Had the landslides occurred in the dead of night, it would have been one of the biggest natural calamities in Kerala, said the survivors while recollecting their harrowing experiences, sitting at the relief camps.
Seventy-year-old Thomas Vettukattil said he met God face to face that day. August 8 was a usual workday for Thomas, who makes a living by helping people file applications for government schemes. As the water level in the Chaliyar river rose, a few people advised him to go back to his house. “I came home and ate food. Then I spent sometime with friends at Ravi's tea shop, our regular meeting place. At that time, I saw something coming down. I alerted my friends and told them to move on. Before we could start, water in the stream rose hip-deep. Then we moved to another shop. We held on to almirahs and roof to save ourselves,” Thomas recounted, sitting at a relief camp at the Government Lower Primary School in Poolappadam.
A group of youngsters rescued Thomas and his friends in the evening. “Those good Samaritans came to Poolappara and informed others about the landslide. They brought the rope of the bell of Poolappara Church to rescue us,” he said.
When Thomas was fighting the floods, his wife Mary was alone at their home. “She moved to the upstairs of the house as water from two streams entered our house. People somehow shifted her to a house in high land,” Thomas said.
Signs of catastrophe
Though the landslide swallowed Pathar in the evening, the signs were visible from the morning itself. A minor landslide had occurred at Muttippara – a place above the hill in Pathar - around 10:30 in the morning. As the flash floods inundated the houses, people started moving downwards.
“Flooding had intensified by noon. A few youngsters, including my son, who went back to their houses to retrieve educational certificates were caught in the floodwaters. Luckily, they managed to escape,” Chandrika, a survivor, said. “I lost my home. What all remaining is a coconut tree and an arecanut tree,” she said.
Still in shock
Ibrahim Kottadan, who owned a grocery shop at Pathar, is yet to overcome the shock of his life. He shut his shop early on Thursday as the water level in the stream kept rising. He then went to check the situation at Bhoodanam, where his daughter stayed, after he heard about the landslides. “By the time I came back, some people told me that Pathar had gone. I managed to reach my house. I was happy to see my sons had moved to a higher place. And I collapsed immediately,” Ibrahim said. “I cannot even figure out where my shop stood,” he said.
Prior to the August 8 disaster, residents said Pathar was hit by a major landslide 25 years ago, claiming five lives. The bridge across the Pathar stream was re-built five months ago at a cost of Rs 50 lakh. It is also destroyed this time.
Yet to count the losses
Pothukallu gram panchayat president Karunakaran Pillai said the panchayat is yet to figure out the losses incurred in the landslides and flash floods. As per a preliminary estimate, 16 houses have been fully damaged and 30 partially. A building with four shops has been destroyed while 5 other shops have been partially damaged. The anganwadi and masjid have also been destroyed.
Pillai, who had crossed the Pathar bridge along with his colleagues a few minutes before the flash floods, is convinced that Pathar is no longer inhabitable. “Government has to consider this fact seriously,” he said.