Kallakurichi hooch victims reached hospital a day before collector admitted tragedy

50 hospitalised, 3 dead by Wednesday noon but SP, collector denied deaths were hooch-related
A medical officer at the Karunapuram camp attending to a patient showing symptoms of methanol poisoning on Friday
A medical officer at the Karunapuram camp attending to a patient showing symptoms of methanol poisoning on Friday(Photo | Sriram R)

KALLAKURICHI: Although the Kallakurichi district collector and superintendent of police stoutly denied the unfolding hooch tragedy till Wednesday afternoon, health officials revealed that three very ill patients from Karunapuram, the village worst-affected, were admitted to the Kallakurichi Government Medical College Hospital by 9 am on Tuesday. On assessing their condition, health officials immediately sent out a mobile medical team to the village to identify and refer affected persons to the hospital.

A member of the medical team that set up camp in Karunapuram by Tuesday afternoon told TNIE the team went to the households in the village and alerted residents that the hooch they might have consumed was toxic. “We sent affected people to the hospital by village. Some people also started taking their family members to the hospital after our alert,” the team member said.

This was no easy task. “Some of the men stubbornly insisted that they hadn’t consumed hooch. They were disoriented from the effects of the brew and we had to force them into the ambulance as persuading them was out of the question,” another member of the team said.

Meanwhile, health officials deployed doctors and nurses from all block government hospitals for duty at the Kallakurichi GMCH. By noon on Wednesday, at least 50 people had been admitted to the the hospital from Karunapuram and neighbouring Kottaimedu and three people had died.

As news of the incident trickled out that day, the then collector Sravan Kumar Jatavath and SP Samay Singh Meena issued a statement denying that the deaths were hooch-related. By Wednesday night, the official toll would reach 16, with patients being treated in four hospitals, and both officials would be transferred out of the district.

A medical officer at the Karunapuram camp attending to a patient showing symptoms of methanol poisoning on Friday
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The tragedy began, however, three days earlier on Monday.

A relative of P Jegadesan (60) of Karunapuram, among the earliest deaths in the tragedy, said that his uncle had consumed the hooch on Monday evening. Relatives of victims said some people consumed the hooch at a funeral, others at a temple festival while the rest, like Jegadesan, drank it on the farmland by the riverside near the village on Monday.

“On Monday evening, the hooch vendor halted at the farmland. As it was a holiday (for Eid), many men took meat cooked at their homes to the riverside to eat and drink. Our mama (uncle) got there by late evening so he would have time to rest before going to work the next day. By midnight he developed a stomachache and we rushed him to the hospital on Tuesday morning,” Jegadesan’s relative said.

S Devi (45), a resident of South Street in Karunapuram, said most of the men who had hooch at the farmland that night had died. “Very few of them have survived so far, but it looks like their health will be badly affected. It was Kannukutty (the main accused who has been arrested) who sold them hooch that evening,” she said.

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