Rescuers in Indian landslide say hopes for survivors 'bleak'

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 01, 2014 8:54 AM

By Aman Shah

MALIN India (Reuters) - Hopes of finding survivors in India from a landslide that swallowed up more than 100 people faded on Friday as rescuers dug through mud and debris following heavy rains, with the death toll rising to 52.

Finding people alive would be extremely unlikely, said Gautam Sarkar, a senior official involved in the rescue, as hundreds of rescuers toiled to sift debris after Wednesday's landslide submerged 46 homes and almost wiped out a village.

"The houses have been buried under layers of wet mud, which makes chances of survival bleak, since no oxygen can go in," Sarkar said.

Nevertheless, additional earth-moving machinery was being brought in, said Alok Avasthy, operations head of a national disaster response team, who estimated the search effort would run for another two days.

The number of confirmed deaths was 52, both officials said, after mud came crashing down on the village of Malin in India's western state of Maharashtra. Eight people were rescued soon after the disaster, but more than 100 remain missing.

The mood was somber as residents rushed back and forth along a 3-km (1.86 miles) route from their remote village to the nearest medical clinic, in a frantic bid to track family members.

Paddy farmer Lakshman Pote, who was tending his rice fields when the hill above the village collapsed on his home, identified five of his family among the dead, but says one of his sons is still missing.

"It happened all of a sudden," Pote said. "I heard a loud noise and the entire hill came crashing down in a matter of a minute."

Rescue officials have not been able to pinpoint the reason for the mudslide.

The area had earlier been lashed by heavy rains. In India, these can often bring disaster, particularly as they swell rivers and lakes. Another potential cause was deforestation, newspapers said.

Do Politics Matter?
Ben Shapiro

For now, the focus remains on recovering the bodies of the missing, with doctors saying post-mortem examinations revealed the corpses had suffered heavy battering and severe fractures. 

An ambulance on Friday afternoon brought bodies from the village, wrapped in red body bags, to the medical clinic, in just one of several trips as the death toll swelled.

"Four bodies," an emergency worker called out to clinic staff as the corpses were unloaded.

(Writing by Sruthi Gottipati; Editing by Rafael Nam and Clarence Fernandez)