At least 46 people were killed after a massive landslide hit two moving Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) buses at Kotrupi on the Pathankot-Mandi-Manali-Leh National Highway on the intervening night of Saturday and Sunday. One of the buses was ferrying over 40 passengers, most of them locals. Only five persons who had got off the bus minutes before survived, sources said. The incident, which happened a little after midnight, was a fallout of heavy rain in the area and a suspected cloudburst on the other side of the mountainous region, sources said. In a large-scale search operation by the district administration, which later also called in the Army and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), 46 bodies were recovered by late evening on Sunday.
Among those searching for family members was Mali Devi of Kullu, who lost her husband in an accident three years ago. She reached the spot looking for her three children who were travelling in the bus from Chamba to Manali. Her two daughters and son had died. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who visited the spot and announced Rs 5-lakh compensation for the kin of the deceased, said the tragedy was “unprecedented.”
Leader of Opposition Prem Kumar Dhumal also reached the spot and spoke to family members of the victims.
“The government will take all possible steps to trace the bodies and rescue any survivors and stand by the families that lost their near and dear in the tragedy,” said the CM.
Eyewitnesses said the landslide also swept away at least one private vehicle (a car) and a few two-wheelers. More than 250 metres of the road disappeared in a few seconds, they said. While one of the buses was on its way from Chamba to Manali with at least 45 passengers on board, the other one from the opposite direction was bound for Katra (Jammu) from Manali.
The five persons who survived were on the Manali-Katra bus. One of them said that they (the five survivors) had alighted after being alerted by a person on a two-wheeler who was reportedly making a video of the approaching landslide. Another survivor claimed that the man was also swept away by the landslide.
“The rescue operation will continue for another day as more debris and muck has been coming down from the hill. Heavy machinery has been deployed by the district administration to clear the muck and the police, the Army and the NDRF personnel as well as locals are all engaged in the search operation,” said Director-General of Police (DGP) Somesh Goyal.