ON Saturday, October 16, Maria James, a college student, and her friends were travelling back to Ranni after spending the puja holidays at another friend’s place in Vandiperiyar. They were on a public bus, and due to lack of network connectivity, they had no idea what lay ahead.
The rains that had been lashing Kerala for the past few days had caused a major landslide en route and they found themselves stuck in a traffic jam near the hill station of Kuttikkanam in the Idukki district.
"We sat inside the bus from around 11 am till dusk hoping that the roads would clear,” says the MSc student, who studies in St Thomas College, Ranni.
“Word was going around that there was a landslide up ahead and people were working to clear the roads. So, we remained inside the bus.” There was no option to turn back as a landslide had caused an electric pole to fall on the road behind, blocking the bus’s path.
"We were trapped in Kuttikkanam," says Maria. As night approached, she and the others on the bus started to get worried. They didn’t know anyone there. Where would they get food? Would they have to spend the night on the bus?
Kuttikkanam is a small hill station situated at the meeting point of roads connecting three major towns – Kumily, Kottayam and Kattappana. The people who live there largely keep to themselves. But on Saturday, as both Kottayam and Idukki districts were facing heavy rains and landslides, the hill station turned into a haven for hundreds of travellers who were driving through the area and found themselves stuck, including Maria and her friends.
“The sub-inspector of police in Peermade took us to a girls’ hostel in Kuttikkanam. From that point onwards, we really had nothing to worry about, the people of the hill station had organised rooms and food for us,” says Maria.