A landslide in the village of Malingaon, India, has left devastation in its wake. Twenty-five bodies have been retrieved so far, but it’s believed that a further 158 could be buried, a number that includes 61 children and 60 women, all of whom may be trapped under the debris.
The Times of India news agency has reported that 378 National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel were mobilized to assist and are either on site or on approach, traveling by foot along the muddy access road into an area that has no network for mobile communication.
The nine NDRF teams are comprised of doctors, paramedics, and trained first responders; they are joined by two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which allow them to cover more ground in a faster method and time is not on their side. While eight villagers have been rescued alive so far, the chances of finding others is slim.
Most of the village has been destroyed in the landslide, which is comprised of mud, rocks, and fallen trees. The slide itself covers a 31-mile radius and is being blamed on deforestation done to make human settlements in the area. Malingaon is located in a remote, hilly area in western India seven miles from Dimbhe Dam and it has experienced two days of heavy monsoon rains.
The rains haven’t stopped; they continue intermittently, slowing down the rescuer’s progress.
The BBC World Service has reported that residents of local villages claim they were woken at 3 a.m. by a noise that sounded like a bomb had detonated.
According to The New Indian Express, the landslide occurred early Wednesday morning, destroying all but six buildings. One of those which escaped damage was the village panchayat, a local government administration office. Villagers have said that livestock and a temple are among the lost, buried under the debris.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, and other state officials are at the site, assisting rescue teams comprised of the NDRF, the Maharashtra Disaster Response Force, police, local villagers, and political activists whose efforts are hampered as water continues to shift the mud.
The landslide was discovered when a driver of a bus for the state transport system failed to find the village, which is a regular service stop.
At least 50 ambulances have come from nearby towns and a ward at the Sassoon Hospital in Pune, 75 miles away, has been readied to receive survivors as they are found.
Residents of nearby villages are being evacuated as a precaution against further landslides.
Malingaon is located in the Pune district of Maharashtra, a state in western India. The nation’s second heaviest populated state with over 110 million inhabitants, Maharashtra is also India’s wealthiest and most developed state. It has a typical monsoon climate, under heavy rain between June and September. July is the wettest month of the year in this region. The Pune district can get up to 20 inches of rain in a year while other areas of the state might see 79 inches.
Monsoon season in India often brings disaster; the annual rains are needed for agriculture, but every year sees a death toll as the summer rainfall loosens hillsides and floods rivers.
Yahoo has reported that Divisional Commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh has concerns for the challenge faced by the NDRF rescuers, who had difficulties in approaching the village, as the access roads are damaged by weather conditions.
Local government official Saurav Rao told an Indian press agency:
“[The] exact number of casualties is not known as we are moving slowly to ensure that those trapped are removed safely.”
Other landslides occurred on the Mumbai-Goa highway, the Central Rail tracks between Mumbai and Nashik, and in Thane, creating difficulties for rail and road traffic. Heavy rains have also caused landslides in the Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In Shimla, Himachal Pradesh’s capital city, the annual rainy season has, along with landslides, brought uprooted trees and power outages.
As the night goes by, the Indian rescue workers continue to dig through the landslide but the mood is grim. Time is against them; the longer it takes to find the missing, the less likely it is that survivors will be found.
[Image Courtesy of AFP]