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India landslide: 17 dead and 200 feared trapped

Emergency forces rushed to remote Malin village in the Pune district of Maharashtra state, where debris from a hill collapsed onto homes in the morning while residents were sleeping.

A mudslide surrounds a building in Malin village in Pune district the western Indian state of Maharashtra on July 30, 2014. AFP Photo
A mudslide surrounds a building in Malin village in Pune district the western Indian state of Maharashtra on July 30, 2014. AFP Photo

NEW DELHI // At least 17 people were killed and as many 200 feared trapped when a landslide engulfed 70 homes in a village in India’s western Maharashtra state on Wednesday.

The landslide occurred at around 5am, when most residents in the village of Malin would have been asleep.

Maharashtra has been pelted by heavy monsoon rain over the past week, and the constant downpour and muddy conditions hampered rescue efforts throughout the afternoon and evening.

The area received 10.8 centimetres of rain on Tuesday.

Seventeen bodies had been recovered by early evening, and sixpeople had been rescued alive, said Tripti Parule, a spokeswoman for the National Disaster Management Authority.

More than 300 rescuers from the National Disaster Response Force (NRDF) and 30 ambulances, were sent to the village, 120 kilometres from Pune city.

Malin is nestled in the foothills of the Western Ghats and is roughly 15 kilometres from the nearest medical centre. Roads to the village, already poor, are worse in the monsoon. “The area is very remote and rural, so it’s taking us time to get there,” said Alok Avasthy, an NDRF commander.

Saurav Rao, the top civil servant in Pune district, said the work had to proceed slowly to avoid further cave-ins.

India’s home minister, Rajnath Singh, visited the area in the evening. On Twitter, prime minister Narendra Modi called the loss of life “saddening”.

Landslides are a common occurrence during the monsoon in the Western Ghats, the range of hills that runs through Maharashtra, parallel to the coast.

Last year, 9,345 hectares of Maharashtra farmland were lost in landslides, for which the state government paid compensation of 20,000 rupees per (Dh1,216) hectare of crop lost.

Landslides, floods and lightning strikes during the monsoon last year also claimed more than 300 lives in the state.

M D Madhusudan, the director of the Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation, noted that the Western Ghats were geologically very old and therefore inherently stable.

“But in most cases in these areas, there has been a slow decline of forest cover,” Dr Madhusudan told The National. “So when you lose forests to large-scale disturbances with a large footprint – such as building a road, say – a lot of these kinds of things, like landslides, become potentially possible.”

The area around the village was extensively deforested, according to reports. Footage broadcast on local television showed a chunk of hillside giving way and a cascade of mud, rocks and trees. Footage also showed workers carrying a victim on a stretcher towards vehicles as a crowd watched.

Elesewhere, 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. Nearly 110,000 people had to be evacuated from the area in a rescue operation that lasted more than a week.


* with reporting from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse