The toll in the landslide at the Nayamakkad tea estate in Kerala’s Idukki district rose to 43 on Sunday evening, as rescuers found 16 more bodies, the Hindustan Times reported. The rescue teams used sniffer dogs to fish out many victims from the debris.

Over 30 people are still missing. The missing count is likely to increase as many students staying in hostels had returned to their homes in the area due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Idukki district administration said.

Devikulam Sub-collector S Premkishan on Saturday said the search operations were called off in the evening because of the rain, The Times of India reported. Four layams, or workers quarters of the tea garden, were buried under debris after a hill caved in due to heavy rain. Only 12 of the total 82 residents managed to escape.

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.”

Revenue Minister E Chandrasekharan was on Saturday overseeing the search and rescue operations, Bangalore Mirror reported.

The India Meteorological Department has issued an orange alert for Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur and Palakkad districts and a yellow alert for Thiruvanathapuram, forecasting heavy rainfall.

The state government had earlier on Saturday requested the Indian Air Force for a helicopter to assist in the search operations. Unidentified officials in the IAF said the Southern Air Command was waiting for the weather to clear.

A 50-member team comprising fire and rescue officials, a team of the National Disaster Response Force and medical teams from Ernakulam and Kottayam were deployed to Rajamala in Idukki district, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office had said on Friday. However, rescue operations were called off on Friday too due to bad weather conditions.

Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan and Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala visited the site on Sunday.

Vijayan had announced an assistance of Rs 5 lakh to each of the families of the victims and said the Kerala government will bear the treatment expenses of those hurt. The Prime Minister’s Office also announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh each to the next of kin of those killed. Rs 50,000 will be given to the injured.

Authorities have had difficulties in carrying out rescue operations since the rain 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.