Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur on Thursday visited the spot of the devastating landslide in Kinnaur district for an overview of the ongoing rescue operation in which 14 bodies have been retrieved, while at least 16 persons are still missing.
Meanwhile, the wreckage of the state roadways bus that fell into a 500 metre deep gorge following the massive landslide was recovered this morning, rescuers said.
“As per our estimates, nearly 16 people are still missing and the rescue operation is underway,” Thakur told the media in Shimla after returning.
He said the state would provide Rs 4 lakh each to the next to the kin of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to the injured. He said Rs 100,000 each would also be provided to the next of kin of the deceased bus passengers.
Most of the victims belong to Kinnaur district.
A rescue operation involving multiple agencies was underway to retrieve the people feared trapped in the 200 metre stretch covered with rubble.
The landslide buried a truck, the state roadways bus, and other vehicles as it occurred over a stretch of the Shimla-Reckong Peo highway near Nigulsari, some 180 km from the state capital.
“Wreckage of the bus found by ITBP troops of 17, 18 and 43 Battalions at first light (0525 Hrs) at approximately 500 metres below the road and 200 meters above Sutlej river. One more dead body retrieved. Total 11 dead bodies retrieved till now,” the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) had said in a morning tweet.
State Disaster Management Director Sudesh Kumar Mokhta told IANS that 15 people trapped in the debris have been rescued.
He said the highway is still closed for the traffic.
Local legislator Jagat Singh Negi visited the spot and inspected the rescue operation involving the ITBP, local authorities, the Army, and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
The Himachal Road Transport Corporation bus was on its way to Haridwar from Rekong Peo via Shimla. Its driver and conductor escaped unhurt as they had stepped out.
The bus driver told the media that when he saw rocks falling on the highway, he stopped the bus just ahead of the disaster spot, and some vehicles came to a halt behind the bus.
He, along with the conductor, then walked ahead to assess the gravity of the situation. “As we moved just 100 metres ahead, we saw the entire mountain come rolling down within seconds and fall on the bus and other vehicles. Some of the vehicles rolled down into the gorge with the impact of the boulders and debris,” he said.
Witnesses said the administration had a tough time extricating the victims from the badly-mangled bus.
It took hours for rescuers to climb down the mountain and bring up the bodies. Even the landslips on Thursday hampered the rescue operation, police officials said.
Kinnaur is one of remotest places in the state and scarcity and low frequency of passenger buses in the district leads to overcrowding of the vehicles.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah spoke to Thakur and assured him of all possible help.
Offering condolences to the bereaved families of the victims and the injured in the tragic landslide, French Ambassador to India, Emmanuel Lenain, tweeted: “We hope that the valiant rescue teams will be able to assist those still missing or trapped.”
This has been the second major natural disaster in Kinnaur in less than a month. Nine people, most of them tourists, were killed by a landslide as boulders fell and hit the vehicle they were travelling in on July 25.
This monsoon also caused major landslides in the state’s Kangra district, claiming 10 lives.
Terrifying videos capturing massive landslides in Sirmaur district are common these days.
Seven people died in the exceptionally high rainfall across the cold desert of Lahaul-Spiti district on July 27-28.
Keylong and Udaipur subdivision of the district faced 12 incidents of flash flood after a cloudburst, in which the Tozing Nallah’s impact was devastating.