Meet Disaster Force’s First Woman Commanding Officer Leading the Rescue Ops After Munnar Landslide


Meet Disaster Force’s First Woman Commanding Officer Leading the Rescue Ops After Munnar Landslide

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Two weeks of incessant rainfall in Kerala has led to a calamity in Munnar. A devastating landslide in the otherwise serene Pettimundi Tea Estate last week has killed at least 52 plantation workers, leaving dozens more still unaccounted for.

Firefighters and two National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams were rushed to the estate after the tragedy struck, where a rescue operation has been ongoing since Friday. Leading this response team is officer Rekha Nambiar, Senior Commandant of the force’s Fourth Battalion.

Officer Nambiar has her work cut out for her.

Over 80 people lived in the area where the landslide struck, tearing down homes and trapping whole families under the debris. Since the NRDF teams were deployed on the spot, at least 50 bodies have been recovered, but an estimated 2 dozen are still missing.

“Two of our teams are engaged in the search operations and there is a river nearby, the bodies are likely to be stuck in the slush,” Nambiar was quoted as saying in a report.

“Due to heavy fog, the visibility is only up to 20-30 feet. In addition, there are huge rocks all over the place. We have to move these rocks to continue the search.”

To make matters worse, the response teams must also deal with the severe waterlogging in the area, which makes digging very difficult.

But Nambiar seems more than up to the task, considering that she has been a part of NDRF’s operations during the Chennai floods, and the Kerala floods in 2018 and 2019. The officer, who is from Kerala, has in the past also commanded the CISF unit that took care of Chennai international airport’s security.

Back in 2015, Nambiar made history after becoming the first woman officer to command a full operational battalion of the NDRF.

She is now in charge of the estimated 300 personnel deployed by the force to retrieve bodies following the calamitous landslide. Hopefully, they are able to rescue more of the unfortunate plantation workers soon.