Ten to 15 out of several students trapped in a forest fire in Tamil Nadu'sTheni have been rescued, Defence Minister Nirmalal Sitharaman said.
Sitharaman said she was responding to a request from Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palaniswami. They had gone in batches to spend the weekend in the forest and planned to return Sunday evening.
"As of now I have not got any information on deaths".
Officials said the Defence Minister told the District Collector to expedite the rescue operations in coordination with the other department officials including, the Airforce. "The Southern Command is in touch with the Collector of Theni", she tweeted.
Reports said the students, who were on a trekking expedition, were climbing down the hills from Munnar in Kerala to Theni. They will stay in touch through Global Positioning System and satellite phones until four helicopters are sent to rescue those stranded. They were on their way back to Kurangani hills when they got caught in the fire. Two helicopters of the Indian Air Force have been pressed into service.
Theni District Collector Pallavi Baldev speaking to trekkers who were rescued from forest fire
Speaking to TNM late on Sunday night, RK Jagenia, Madurai circle Conservator of Forests said, "Four people have died, that is confirmed".
The Collector added that the rescue of others struck in the area has become very hard due lack of adequate lighting facilities. It is not known what led the fire to spread despite measures being taken to control it.
The three children in the trekking party - Neha (9), Sadhana (11) and Bhavana (12) - have been rescued and haven't suffered critical injuries.
Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam is rushing to the spot to take stock of the situation.
Police said the students from Coimbatore and Erode were taking training in Kurangai-Kozhuku Hill area when the fire suddenly broke out around noon.
District Superintendent of Police V Baskaran and revenue and forest officials were also overseeing the operations. Police and workers in a nearby tea estate are also helping.
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