A major landslide on Wednesday struck a village in western India following heavy monsoon rains, killing at least 17 people and leaving up to 200 feared trapped, an official said.
Emergency forces rushed to a remote village in Pune district of Maharashtra state, where a hill collapsed sending mud and rocks tumbling onto homes in the morning as residents were reportedly sleeping.
“Six victims have been rescued and 17 dead bodies recovered so far,” said Tripti Parule, a spokeswoman for the National Disaster Management Authority, in an email to AFP.
She earlier said 150 to 200 people were feared trapped, citing district officials.
Nine teams have been mobilised by the National Disaster Response Force with a strength of 378 trained personnel to help with the rescue effort in the village, Parule said, although ongoing rains have been hampering operations.
Television footage showed a chunk of hillside dramatically giving way and a cascade of mud, rocks and trees, sparking clouds of dust below. About 50 houses were thought to be damaged in the disaster.
– Painstaking operation –
Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the loss of life as “saddening” on Twitter, while footage showed workers carrying a victim on a stretcher towards vehicles as a crowd watched.
Heavy machinery has been mobilised to try to rescue those feared trapped and about 30 ambulances were rushed to the scene, local government official Saurav Rao told the Press Trust of India news agency.
“Exact number of casualties is not known as we are moving slowly to ensure that those trapped are removed safely,” Rao said.
Divisional Commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh said the rescue operation was a challenge with the area 15-20 kilometres (nine to 12 miles) from the nearest medical facility, and the NDRF had difficulty reaching the scene because of damage caused to the roads.
Heavy rains have been falling in Maharashtra and other parts of India as a result of the annual monsoon.
Downpours have triggered small landslides in the Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in recent days, while authorities are closely watching rising river levels in case of floods.
In Himachal Pradesh’s capital of Shimla, rains have uprooted trees, knocked out power and triggered slides.
Landslips have blocked roads to popular Hindu pilgrimage sites in Uttarakhand, which was hit by a landslide and flooding disaster last year that is thought to have killed nearly 6,000 pilgrims, tourists and others.
Raging rivers flattened houses and buildings in the state in last year’s floods, when the area was packed with travellers in what was a peak tourist season.
Building collapses are a common occurrence in India, especially during the rainy season, with millions living in dilapidated old structures or newly built but illegal constructions made from substandard materials.
An apartment tower under construction came crashing down in the southern city of Chennai late June following heavy rains, killing 61, mostly labourers.
A similar accident on the outskirts of Mumbai last year left 74 dead.
British daily The Guardian last year gathered statistics showing that 2,651 people were killed across India in 2012 from the collapse of 2,737 structures, including houses and bridges.