Hope lessening for India landslide survivors

2014-08-01 14:38
Indian National Disaster Response Force personnel stand on top and beside an excavator hauling out debris at the scene of the landslide in Malin village. (Indranil Mukherjee, AFP)

Indian National Disaster Response Force personnel stand on top and beside an excavator hauling out debris at the scene of the landslide in Malin village. (Indranil Mukherjee, AFP)

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Malin - Rescue workers were losing hope of Friday of finding survivors amid the mud and debris from a major landslide in western India, where 150 people are feared to have been killed.

Fifty bodies and eight survivors have now been pulled from the site where a village once stood in a remote part of Maharashtra state, but incessant rains and strong winds have hampered rescue efforts.

"The debris is huge and since it is wet mud, there is negligible chance of air pockets. Any more survivors would be miracles," Ganesh Pawar, medical officer at the rural hospital treating casualties, told AFP.

'I have nothing left'

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has said about 160 people were thought to have been living in the dozens of houses damaged when a hill gave way and cascaded onto their village of Malin.

Relatives on Thursday told of losing whole families after tons of earth and trees came crashing down onto the homes below.

"I lost my dad, mum, nephew, my whole family. What will I do? I have nothing left," inconsolable Usha Vilas Gavar, 30, told AFP close to the scene.

The NDRF, which mobilised 378 rescue workers to help with the search, worked into the night in a desperate hunt for any more survivors after lights powered by portable generators were set up.

Its vehicles initially had difficulty accessing the site along narrow, damaged roads and the army was seen arriving to help on Thursday afternoon.

Among the handful rescued were Pramila Lembe, aged 25, and her three-month-old baby Rudra, who were recovering with no major injuries in hospital having been shielded by their home's tin wall.

"I was breastfeeding the baby when I heard a loud thunder-like clap. I tried to run but the wall collapsed," Lembe said.

Massive mudslide

Dramatic footage of the landslide showed a chunk of hillside giving way on Wednesday with a cascade of mud, rocks and trees, sending up clouds of dust below.

The chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, said late on Thursday that people living in landslide-prone areas would have to be shifted to prevent such disasters.

He said they occurred "due to cutting of trees as well as construction activities on the hills. Mountains have been flattened for agriculture," he told his cabinet according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency, citing officials.

Chavan said that if necessary a policy would be prepared to tackle such activities.

He echoed India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who after visiting the site stressed the need to "maintain environmental balance along with development".

PTI said the victims were members of a tribal community that survived by paddy farming on hill slopes in the once densely forested region.

While India's annual rains are a lifeline for the economy, flooding and building collapses are frequent during the monsoon season.

A landslide in the eastern state of Odisha on Thursday cut off about a dozen villages, while another in the northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand killed at least five people.

Uttarakhand was hit by a landslide and flooding disaster last year that is thought to have killed nearly 6 000 pilgrims, tourists and others.

Read more on:    natural disasters

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