Two Himachal Pradesh Road Transport Corporation buses were hit by a massive landslide on the Mandi-Pathankot National Highway 154 on Sunday, leaving 46 people dead and many injured. Amongst the recovered bodies, 43 are from the Chamba-Manali bus and three from the Manali-Katra bus.
Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh visited the landslide spot and took stock of the situation. He also announced ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh each for next of kin of the deceased. As per a report by news agency ANI, presently two search and rescue teams of NDRF are operational in Mandi.
The chief minister also met the victims’ families and assured all possible to them and announced that the government would bear expenses of treatment of injured passengers, said DPRO, Shimla.
Himachal Health Minister Kaul Singh Thakur, Transport minister G S Bali and Rural Development and Panchayati Raj minister Anil Sharma also reached the spot. Thakur announced financial assistance of Rs 4 lakh to the next of kin of the deceased while Bali announced that Rs 1 lakh would be given to each bereaved family by the HRTC.
The landslide that happened a little after midnight on the highway connecting Manali and Mandi swept away the road and the buses for almost 800 metres down into a gorge leaving no trace of one of the buses which were completely buried under the debris. One of the buses was carrying around 47 passengers from Chamba to Mandi and the other bus, going from Katra to Manali, had 8 to 10 passengers in it. Those injured were immediately rushed to the nearby hospital.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has condoled the deaths due to the landslide saying, “Pained by the loss of lives due to landslide related accidents in HP’s Mandi district. My condolences with the families of the deceased.” In a series of tweets, PM Modi wrote that a team of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is going to Mandi to take part in rescue and relief operations and provide all possible assistance required. He also prayed for the quick recovery of those injured in the incident.
Earlier in the day, Transport minister Bali said the toll could climb to 50 in the incident and that rescue operations began on war footing. “Rescue operations have been continuing since 2 am and I am in constant touch with the district authorities and other related officials. Owing to the seriousness of the issue, Army has been called,” he said in a Facebook post.
According to a PTI report, Special secretary (Disaster) D D Sharma said that the buses had halted for a tea break at Kotrupi in the night when the tragedy struck. He further said that the ADM was rushed to the spot immediately after receiving the information.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi also took to Twitter condoling the deaths in the accident and wrote, “My condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in Mandi. Request Himachal government and local Congress units to provide all possible help.”
Meanwhile, Union Health Minister JP Nadda also tweeted, “Deeply saddened to know about this unfortunate accident at Padhar on Mandi NH, Himachal Pradesh. My prayers are with the families of victims.”
According to an ANI report, the officials who are supervising the rescue operation said that it is a tough task for the rescue teams because the whole area has been covered with several feet of mud and big boulders. The authorities have also diverted the traffic from both sides of the National Highway.
The Mandi district administration has issued help line numbers 1905- 226201, 226202, 226203, 1905- 235538 and 094180-01051. In a notification, the district administration has advised people to take the Mandi-Kullu route via Kalota. Also, the Jogindernagar-Mandi section of the Pathankot-Mandi National Highway has been closed.
This is the third such incident in Himachal. Earlier 45 bus passengers were buried in a landslide near Matiyana in
Shimla district in 1988 and 42 passengers were buried in another mishap at Luggar Hati in Kullu district in 1994.