At least 46 people were confirmed killed after a massive mudslide in Himachal Pradesh’s Mandi district swept up a 150-metre stretch of road and swept away two Himachal Road Transport Corporation buses, among other vehicles.
Rescue operations were halted Sunday night with authorities worried about more mudslides on the Mandi-Pathankot highway, where the tradegy occured on the intervening night between Saturday and Sunday.
Rescue work, which is being carried out by teams from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Indian Army and Himachal Pradesh Police, is set to resume in the morning. Authorities, however, indicated that almost all of the bodies have been recovered even as they said that the death toll could rise slightly higher – to above 50.
“We believe that most of the bodies have been recovered. Rescue operation was stopped during night as there were chances of more mudslides. But it will resume in the morning,” a government spokesperson was quoted as saying by news agency IANS.
The two buses were hit at a refreshment stall near near Kotropi village on the Mandi-Pathankot highway, around 220 km from Shimla, at around 12.20 am Sunday. All passengers from one of the two buses – 43 – are believed to have perished in the calamity.
Bodies of two other people killed in the mudslide were among the 46 recovered; one biker, believed to be an Army jawan, was also among the dead. 23 people of the 46 killed have been identified.
The first bus, from which nobody survived, was travelling from Chamba to Manali, while the second bus was bound for Katra in Jammu.
Rescue work, suspended over fears of more mudslides in the region, is set to resume today morning. Teams of the NDRF, the Army and the police rushed to the spot on Sunday and heavy earth-moving machinery was deployed at the gorge where the two buses lay buried under a heap of debris.
Rescue workers, however, managed to reach the buses only around 12 hours after calamity struck as the vehicles had been dragged away 1.5 kilometers from the accident site.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, along with Health Minister Kaul Singh Thakur, Transport Minister G S Bali and Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Anil Sharma, visited the accident spot.
Thakur announced financial assistance of Rs 4 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased, while Bali announced that Rs 1 lakh would be given to each bereaved family by the HRTC.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also condoled the deaths. “Pained by the loss of lives due to landslide related accidents in HPs Mandi district. My condolences with the families of the deceased,” Modi tweeted. “I pray for the quick recovery of those injured.”
This is the third such major incident in Himachal Pradesh since 1988. Earlier 45 bus passengers were buried in a landslide near Matiyana in Shimla district in 1988 while 42 passengers were buried in an incident at Luggar Hati in Kullu district in 1994.