The death toll from a major landslide in western India is expected to exceed 150, a health official says, after heavy monsoon rains sent mud and rocks tumbling onto homes.
Emergency forces rushed to a remote village in the state of Maharashtra, where a hill collapsed in the morning as residents were reportedly sleeping.
“We have removed 19 bodies,” said H.H. Chavan, the affected Pune district’s deputy director of health, adding they expect about 140 more, considering 44 houses were buried.
“The majority of deaths are due to the crush-load of rubble which has buried the village,” Chavan told AFP in Ghodegaon, a neighbouring village that has become a nerve centre for the rescue operation.
The National Disaster Response Force said it had mobilised nine teams with a strength of 378 trained personnel to help with the rescue effort, 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.
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.
Police have cordoned off the affected village after people trying to reach the scene of the disaster caused miles-long jams, hampering the movement of rescue workers.
Currently only ambulances and other rescue vehicles are allowed beyond the cordon, but the Maharashtra Emergency Medical Services said rescue equipment was getting stuck in the narrow roads and new mud flows were continuing due to incessant rain.
The rescue operation is also a challenge because the area is 15 to 20 kilometres from the nearest medical facility, said Divisional Commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh.
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.