MUMBAI: As many as 18 people were killed and over 140 others trapped in a major landslide on Wednesday at Malin, a remote village near Ambegaon, about 70 km from Pune in Maharashtra. The district administration said the toll is set to rise as the rescue operations — which are set to go on for at least three more days — were hampered by heavy rain.
According to the State’s disaster management cell, a large part of a hillock came crashing down on all 44 houses in the tiny village situated beneath it during the wee hours of Wednesday. The villagers, numbering about 745, were asleep when the disaster struck. Malin is situated in a remote catchment area of Dibhe dam and is close to the well-known Bhimashankar temple, one of the 12 Jyotirlinga shrines.
The villagers are mostly tribals who were relocated there after the dam was completed.
Heavy rains lashed the Ambegaon taluk for the past two days and Malin was filled with mounds of slush and mud. The government has warned that there is a possibility of landslides in nearby villages too if the rain continues.
Seven National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams, each comprising 42 rescuers, are engaged in the rescue operations. The Pune district administration has mobilised government and private earth-moving equipment. Collector Saurav Rao said the exact number of casualties was still not known. “Our priority is to ensure that those who are trapped are rescued safely. We have arranged 30 ambulances from nearby areas and have extended medical help to the victims,” he said.
Rescue workers faced problems in reaching the spot due to poor roads. Heavy rain, mud, poor communication and a huge crowd of onlookers also compounded the problems of rescuers in the afternoon. Pune Divisional Commissioner Prabhakar Deshmukh has been tasked with coordinating the relief work. Additional District Collector Ganesh Patil is also supervising the situation. He said that around 300 NDRF personnel are involved in the rescue operation.
The administration has also launched a helpline number — 020-26120720. Some NGOs and residents of nearby villages too joined the rescue efforts following an appeal by the administration.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who visited the spot late in the afternoon, confirmed that the landslide came crashing down on all 44 houses in the village. Maharashtra Assembly Speaker and local legislator Dilip Walse-Patil was among the early visitors at the spot. “The scene at the accident spot was heartrending. There was mud everywhere and no sign of human life,” he said.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh was expected to reach Pune by late evening. He is likely to visit Malin on Thursday morning and take stock of the situation. NCP president Sharad Pawar is also likely to visit the spot. “There are many other villages situated beneath the hillock. This incident has alarmed us and has made us think again about such villages,” Pawar said.