It was only three hours after the landslide struck Malin that rescue work could actually start in the village on the fateful morning of July 30. Even as poor phone connectivity has been cited as a reason for the delayed action, the district administration has admitted that it took time for them to understand the “magnitude of the tragedy”.
According to the survivors, the landslide occurred sometime around 7.30 am. A State Transport bus driver, who reached the village a little after 7.30 only to find it wiped out, had apparently informed the Ghodegaon ST officials, who in turn alerted the district administration. Deputy Resident Collector Suresh Jadhav Sunday said he had received an SMS regarding the landslide at 8.30 am July 30.
“The local tehsildar informed me that a landslide had occurred in Malin village and that some 40 houses had been affected,” said Jadhav, adding that the tehsildar too was not aware of the magnitude of the tragedy till his team actually reached the spot. Officials said this was because landslides were common in Ambegaon taluka.
The Disaster Management Cell, which Jadhav heads, apparently believed the debris from the landslide had entered houses and the residents were waiting for them to be cleared. “Initially, we thought the debris, which were a few feet high, had entered their houses. We could not gauge that the debris had engulfed the entire houses and (the mounds) were much higher than expected. It was only around 11.30 am that we got to know the scale of the tragedy,” said Jadhav.
He said they had informed the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) by 9.15 am. S Gawde, Deputy Commandant of NDRF, said they had received information about the tragedy around 10.45 am and quickly moved their teams. “Our teams could reach the site by 2.30 pm,” Gawde said.
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Jadhav said he had alerted the Junnar and Alandi municipal councils as well as requisitioned the services of earthmovers and ambulances. “As many as 100 ambulances were on the way immediately. By 10.30 am, at least seven JCBs were on the spot and had started the excavation work. The JCBs had arrived from nearby areas,” he said. However, the huge number of ambulances then got stuck in a traffic jam, which stretched to nearly 10 km, on the road leading to Malin. “We had to ask some of the ambulances to return,” Additional District Collector Ganesh Patil had earlier said.
The administration claims they had been quick to move. “As soon as we received information about the tragedy, we started mobilising the resources and could start the rescue operation by 10.30 am,” said Jadhav.
Asked if there could have been more survivors had the operation started earlier, the NDRF says there is no room for ifs and buts in this matter. “In the kind of tragedy that occurred, it was a task in itself to find survivors,” Gawde said.
As many as 151 people died in the landslide, for whom a memorial has come up in Gohe village of Junnar taluka — on the premises of Dnyanda Shikshan Sanstha where 151 saplings have been planted. Eight villagers, including a three-month-old baby and her 25-year-old mother, survived the tragedy. Six people were pulled out of the debris minutes after the landslide by nearby villagers. The mother and the baby were pulled out nearly nine hours later.
Officials said connectivity was a big problem during the operation. The ST driver had to travel at least an hour’s distance before he could alert the authorities. The district administration said they had already intimated the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) about the need to improve connectivity in the hilly areas. “This will help us get information faster,” Jadhav said.
Officials said landslides were regular during rains in Ambegaon and Junnar talukas and a better connectivity would help mitigate disasters like this. Vodafone and Idea had set up temporary towers during the rescue operations, which were of big help not only to officials but also to relatives waiting for the bodies of victims and journalists covering the exercise, said officials.
Civic activist Vijay Kumbhar said: “The district administration and the NDRF did a commendable job after the tragedy. However, before the tragedy, the district administration did little. It had appointed a flying squad to locate fragile locations like Malin in the hilly region. We have not heard about the flying squad doing anything in this regard. Had the administration being pro-active, this would not have happened,” he said.