The death toll in the massive landslide that buried a row of estate workers’ quarters and a church at Pettimudi near Munnar in Kerala’s Idukki, rose to 28, with more bodies being recovered on Saturday under the debris by those engaged in search and rescue operations.

“Three days after the settlements were swept away by devastating landslides at Pettimudi near Rajamala, authorities have now decided to take help of sniffer dogs to trace the persons buried under the debris,” officials said.

According to the government, 78 people were staying at the spot where the tragedy occurred. While 12 were rescued, 28 bodies were found so far. Officials said efforts were on to find the rest.

The bodies of 15 people were recovered on Friday. Twelve persons were rescued on Friday and they were shifted to hospitals. More bodies are expected to be found under the mounds of rock and soil.

About 30 km from the popular tourist destination of Munnar, the tragedy took place when big boulders came down on four lines of estate houses.

The massive search exercise is being carried out by a huge number of rescue personnel drawn from the NDRF, Kerala Police, Fire Force, locals and volunteers.

NDRF chief in charge of south Indian state, Rekha Nambiar is leading the 55-member team which is entrusted with the search and rescue mission.

They faced extreme difficulty getting there as the roads and bridges in the area have been washed away in the heavy rains and resultant floods. A 21-member family is feared buried under the debris. Many houses of plantation workers and the estate canteen were swept away in the landslide.

Meanwhile, the water level in the Mullaperiyar dam in Idukki reached 134 ft of the total capacity of 142 ft following heavy rains that lashed the catchment areas of the dam.

While the Kerala government has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to each of the deceased’s families, the Centre has announced Rs 2 lakh each.

The incident is said to have occurred in the wee hours of Friday 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.

State Minister for Electricity, MM Mani, who hails from the district had said the state government will do everything possible to help the victims, so would the Tea company, that owns the estate.

“The exact number of missing will have to be ascertained by the tea company, as it’s their residential lines and the local village council will also have to work with them. The chances of getting a survivor from the debris is slim now,” said Mani.

Meanwhile, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has issued a red alert for Idukki, Malappuram and Wayanad districts on Sunday.

Incessant rains, landslides and opening of shutters of dams across rivers have caused rise in water level in rivers and streams in central Kerala.

Normal life of people living in low lying areas of Kottayam and Alappuzha has been affected with flood waters entering their homes.

Low-lying areas in Kottayam and Alappuzha districts are heavily impacted due to flooding. Hundreds of families have been shifted to relief camps from-low lying areas including Kumarakom and Kuttanad regions of Kottayam and Alappuzha districts, they said.

Considering the spread of novel coronavirus, the authorities have opened separate camps for different categories of the flood affected people.

In Ernakulam district, 1,203 flood affected people have been shifted to relief camps.

While 1,118 persons have been lodged in general relief camps, 67 senior citizens are staying in camps for persons above 60 years of age. Eighteen persons are staying in the camps set for quarantined people, district administration officials said.

(With inputs from agencies)