Rescue operations resumed early today in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh where at least 46 dead bodies were recovered following a massive landslide, with at least 10 persons still missing. The security forces also brought relief materials to be distributed for those stuck in the region.
The landslide following a cloudburst in the early hours of Sunday struck two moving Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) buses at Kotrupi on the Pathakot-Mandi-Manali-Leh National Highway. At least 40 passengers, most of them locals, were travelling in one of the buses. The other one was going on the opposite direction from Manali to Katra (Jammu). Five people who survived were from the second bus, and had reportedly got off it minutes before disaster struck.
Mandi deputy commissioner Sandeep Kadam said a team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and Army dug through mounds of mud and stones to recover 46 bodies from the site. The landslide that took place around 1.15 am at Kotrupi village swept away a 200-metre stretch of the Mandi-Pathankot highway, along with the two buses of the Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC), two cars and a motorcycle.
Special secretary (Disaster) D D Sharma said that the tragedy struck when the bus stopped for a tea break at Kortupi in the middle of the night. He added that the landslide swept the buses for almost 800 metre down into a gorge.
In a Facebook post, state transport minister G S Bali on Sunday said that the death toll may reach 50. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh left from Shimla and reached Mandi by road, as he could not fly due to bad weather.
According to sources, heavy rainfall in the area and a cloudburst on the other face of the mountain was the cause of the incident. Speaking to ANI, deputy commissioner of Mandi Sandeep Kadam said, ''The rain has hampered the rescue operations, which is making it tough for the police and home guard.''
While politicians made the usual noises and outbid each other in announcing compensation, none addressed the root cause of why such landslides have become an annual feature in the Himalaya - the rampant deforestation that has loosened the topsoil, coupled with unbridled construction across streams and 'nullahs' or natural waterways.
Compensation, sops pour in
Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences over the incident on Twitter. ''Pained by the loss of lives due to landslide related accidents in HP's Mandi district. My condolences with the families of the deceased,'' he said.
Describing the tragedy as ''unpredictable'', Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh announced Rs5 lakh compensation for the kin of the deceased. ''The government will take all possible steps to trace the bodies and rescue any survivors and stand by the families that lost their near and dear in the tragedy,'' he said.
Himachal Pradesh Health Minister Kaul Singh Thakur, transport minister G S Bali and Rural Developlment and Panchayati Raj minister Anil Sharma also reached the spot. Thakur announced financial assistance of Rs4 lakh for the kin of the deceased, while Bali also announced Rs1 lakh for the kin of the deceased.
Leader of the opposition in the state assembly Prem Kumar Dhumal also reached the spot to take a stock of the situation and spoke to family members of the victims.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also expressed his condolences on Twitter and said, ''My condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in Mandi. Request Himachal government and local Congress units to provide all possible help.''
Union health minister J P Nadda offered prayers for the victims, tweeting, ''Deeply saddened to know about this unfortunate accident at Padhar on Mandi NH, Himachal Pradesh. My prayers are with the families of victims.''