By Aman Shah
Rescuers in India were digging through swirling mud to uncover dozens of submerged homes on Thursday and find more than 100 people swallowed up by a landslide that flattened almost an entire village, with the confirmed death toll at 21.
Seven teams of 42 rescue workers each worked through the night at Malin village, 60 km from the city of Pune in Maharashtra state. But incessant rain, mud and poor communications in the remote area slowed their efforts to make their way into engulfed thatch huts and brick houses.
Four earth moving machines scooped out mud spread over an area the size of a football pitch. The frame of a motorbike floated by on a torrent of mud, an indication that bodies could well be underneath. Small streams flowed into the area from surrounding hills.
The hillside above the village collapsed on Wednesday and heavy rain raised fears of another landslide.
The head of rescue operations at the National Disaster Response Force said 21 bodies had been recovered, with 129 people feared trapped under the mud that covered dozens of houses.
“We have mapped the 46 houses and are trying to remove the mud from the most densely populated areas,” said operations chief Alok Avasthy.
The local school, one of the only roofed buildings to survive, was put into service as a makeshift shelter for rescue workers, while police were stationed in trucks to provide backup.
Rainy season downpours, though vital for India’s agriculture, can often bring disaster.
Unprecedented rain in June last year wreaked havoc across Uttarakhand state in the Himalayas, causing rivers and lakes to burst their banks, inundating towns and villages and killing thousands.
Environmentalists say construction of hydro-electric dams, involving blasting tunnels through mountains to carry diverted flows of water, deforestation and the spread of unregulated buildings along river banks magnify the impact of heavy rains.