Rescuers dug through mud and rocks on Thursday in a desperate search for about 120 people buried in the debris of shattered homes after a massive landslide in Maharashtra flattened an entire village and killed 41 people.
Heavy rain and strong winds slowed down efforts to reach the engulfed thatch huts and brick houses in Malin village, about 80 km north of Pune, even though rescue teams worked through the night with floodlights and earth-moving machines.
Read: Did Maharashtra ignore eco warnings on Malin?
“We are trying our best, but with every passing moment the situation is taking a turn for the worse,” said National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) commandant Alok Awasthi. “The hills are soft due to rains and deforestation.”
Two days of torrential rain triggered the landslide early Wednesday, burying dozens of homes in the hilly area. Television footage showed a chunk of hillside giving way and a cascade of mud, rocks and trees, sending up clouds of dust below.
“As per our estimates, about 120 people are still trapped. The rescue operation is expected to be completed in two more days if heavy rain does not impede us,” Pune district collector Saurabh Rao said.
Landslides are common in the hills during the monsoon season. Environmentalists say the area around Malin has been deforested extensively for construction and mining, increasing its vulnerability.
Watch: Hope dims as rains disrupt rescue ops
Unprecedented rain in June last year wreaked havoc across Uttarakhand, causing rivers and lakes to burst their banks, inundating towns and villages and killing thousands.
Survivors said they were struggling to deal with the natural disaster and pegged the number of people trapped under the debris at higher than 350.
“It’s a big challenge before me now. I have lost 11 members of my family including my parents, wife, brothers and uncles. I survived because I had gone to Pune. Now, I don’t even know how I will conduct the last rites,” said Namdeo Jandhare, one of the survivors.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned the loss of lives and said all possible efforts must be made to help the victims.
Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said the government would look into the concerns of environmental experts who blame deforestation for landslides in hilly areas.
“If necessary, the government will bring out a policy on the same,” he said.
(With agency inputs)