The toll in the landslide at the Nayamakkad tea estate in Kerala’s Idukki district rose to 24 on Saturday, Onmanorama reported. A massive search operation for nearly 50 persons is underway. Most of the victims were asleep at the time of the incident, which took place early Friday.

The India Meteorological Department has issued a red alert for Idukki, Thrissur, Palakkad and Wayanad districts for heavy to very heavy rainfall. The Kerala government has set up a 24-hour control room and said these four districts are prone to landslides. Fishermen have also been advised to not venture into sea.

The rescue work was stopped due to bad weather and the hilly terrain on Friday night after 15 bodies were recovered. Four layams, or workers quarters of the tea garden, were buried under debris after a hill, located at a distance of about three km, caved in because of heavy rain. Only 12 of the total 82 residents managed to escape. Three wounded were admitted to the Tata General Hospital at Munnar. Besides this, a woman who was critically injured was admitted to the Kolenchery Medical College.

Devikulam sub collector S Premkishan said three separate landslides had occurred in the hills early on Friday, according to The Times of India. “It was from nearly three km uphill that the rock debris and water rolled down,” he added. “The workers might have been in deep sleep inside the layams.”

Crime Branch Inspector General Gopesh Agarwal has been appointed as special officer for coordinating the rescue and rehabilitation operations.

A 50-member team comprising fire and rescue officials, a team of the National Disaster Response Force and medical teams from Ernakulam and Kottayam have been deployed to Rajamala in Idukki district, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office had said on Friday.

However, the authorities were facing difficulties in carrying out rescue operations as heavy downpour and flooding made the area inaccessible. The Nayamakkad estate is located about 30 km from Munnar, adjacent to the Eravikulam National Park, and can be accessed only through the national park. But since the park is closed and a bridge at Periyavarai connecting the areas was washed away, there is no direct access.

Eravikulam National Park range officer Job J Neriamparampil told The Times of India that the whole area was filled with mud and rocks when they reached the spot. “We could rescue four persons of a family,” he added. “Six forest department staff who were staying in the layams are among the dead. The body of Eravikulam National Park driver Mayilswami has been recovered.”

On Friday, Vijayan had declared a financial assistance of Rs 5 lakh each to the families of the landslip victims. He said the state government will bear the treatment expenses for the injured. The Prime Minister’s Office said an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh each from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund would be given to the next of kin of those killed in the landslide. Besides this, Rs 50,000 each would be given to those injured.