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article imageIndian rescue workers lose hope of finding landslide survivors

By Aditya Phatak (AFP)     Aug 1, 2014 in World

Rescue workers were losing hope Friday of finding survivors amid the mud and debris from a major landslide in western India, where 150 people are feared to have been killed.

Sixty bodies and eight survivors have now been pulled from the site where a village once stood in a remote part of Maharashtra state, but incessant rains and strong winds have hampered rescue efforts.

"The debris is huge and since it is wet mud, there is negligible chance of air pockets. Any more survivors would be miracles," Ganesh Pawar, medical officer at the rural hospital treating casualties, told AFP.

The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has said about 160 people were thought to have been living in the dozens of houses damaged when a hill gave way and cascaded onto their village of Malin.

National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel wait as their colleagues recover a body from the s...
National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel wait as their colleagues recover a body from the scene of the landslide at Malin village in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, on August 1, 2014
Indranil Mukherjee, AFP

The force, which mobilised 378 rescue workers to help with the search, worked into the night in a desperate hunt for any more survivors after lights powered by portable generators were set up.

"Our boys are facing a gruelling task. Adverse weather and lack of space to operate heavy machinery are the main things," said Gautam Sarkar, an assistant commandant of the NDRF, which is using both sniffer dogs and life detectors that can sense heartbeats.

"We have not been able to survey the whole area since the loose mud buries you up to your thighs," Sarkar said.

Relatives on Thursday told of losing whole families after tonnes of earth and trees came crashing down onto the homes below.

- Fear of more landslides -

India's National Disaster Response Force ride in the bucket of a mechanical digger with a victi...
India's National Disaster Response Force ride in the bucket of a mechanical digger with a victim's body in Malin on July 31, 2014, after a landslide engulfed the village in Maharashtra state
, AFP

"I lost my dad, mum, nephew, my whole family. What will I do? I have nothing left," inconsolable Usha Vilas Gavar, 30, told AFP close to the scene.

Among the handful rescued were Pramila Lembe, 25, and her three-month-old baby Rudra, who were recovering with no major injuries in hospital having been shielded by their home's tin wall.

"I was breastfeeding the baby when I heard a loud thunder-like clap. I tried to run but the wall collapsed," Lembe said.

Volunteers were seen preparing pyres for mass cremations on Friday, with wood and kerosene arriving on trucks and tankers.

Dramatic footage of the landslide showed a chunk of hillside giving way on Wednesday with a cascade of mud, rocks and trees, sending up clouds of dust below.

An Indian villager wails as she rushes to the site of the landslide at Malin in the western Indian s...
An Indian villager wails as she rushes to the site of the landslide at Malin in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, on August 1, 2014
Indranil Mukherjee, AFP

Residents of neighbouring villages expressed fears that their homes might be next.

"There was no landslide here in the past, but recently the rice farming activity on the hill behind the village had intensified," said 55-year-old Govind Asavale.

"We now face the risk of a similar fate."

The chief minister of Maharashtra, Prithviraj Chavan, said late Thursday that people living in landslide-prone areas would have to be shifted to prevent such disasters.

He said they occurred "due to cutting of trees as well as construction activities on the hills. Mountains have been flattened for agriculture," he told his cabinet according to the Press Trust of India news agency, citing officials.

Chavan said that if necessary a policy would be prepared to tackle such activities.

He echoed India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who after visiting the site stressed the need to "maintain environmental balance along with development".

While India's annual rains are a lifeline for the economy, flooding and building collapses are frequent during the monsoon season.

A landslide in the eastern state of Odisha on Thursday cut off about a dozen villages, while another in the northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand killed at least five people.

Uttarakhand was hit by a landslide and flooding disaster last year that is thought to have killed nearly 6,000 pilgrims, tourists and others.

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