The worst fears about the tragedy at Malin village, about 110 km from Pune city, appeared to come true on Thursday as the Pune district administration ruled out the possibility of finding any survivors among the over 150 men, women and children believed trapped in the mud-and-rock debris.
Eight people were found alive a few hours after rescue work began at the site of the landslide in the lap of the Sahayadris in the Ambegaon taluka of Pune district on Wednesday. Thursday’s daylong rescue effort, however, failed to find any more survivors in the gigantic mound of mud that has all but swallowed the entire village.
“More that 24 hours have passed since the tragedy, and I don’t think we can find any survivor in the slush now,” Pune district collector Saurabh Rao, who was supervising relief and rescue operations, said.
“Our efforts to locate survivors and bodies are under way. The search operation will continue for the next three-four days. But looking at things as they stand, I don’t think we will be able to locate any survivor,” Rao said.
Minutes later, NCP chief and former agriculture minister Sharad Pawar delivered the same grim prognosis. “The tragedy is massive… The chances of finding survivors in these muddy conditions look remote,” Pawar said after he reached the site of the disaster.
Pawar said a tragedy of this magnitude called for a rethink on allowing people to live in the foothills. “25 years ago, a smiliar tragedy had occurred at Bhaje village in Maval taluka. Then too, several lives had been lost and there were discussions about shifting villages located at the foot of hills… Now it’s time the state government thought of moving villagers out to avoid future tragedies,” he said.
Asked if he would like the Congress-NCP government to act immediately to move the villages out, Pawar said, “I believe the state government should immediately talk to experts.” By Thursday evening, 35 bodies had been pulled out of the mud. Most were disfigured beyond recognition; many had hands, legs, the face or torso missing.
All of them were cremated at the Adhivre crematorium nearby. Among the eight survivors rescued on Wednesday were a mother and her six-month-old baby.
At least 30 men, 61 women and 60 children are believed to be missing, and now feared dead. Most of them are from the extended Zanjare, Lembhe and Dangat families, all of whom are related to each other. “At least 100 of our relatives stayed in the village,” Pramila Zanjare, who lives in a nearby village, said.
Several villagers who survived the disaster said the death toll could be more than the 150-odd that is officially feared. “There were at least 100 houses in the village. Each house had five or six members on average. Over 300 villagers may have died,” Ramchandra Zanjare, who had gone to his farm at 6 in the morning on Wednesday, said.
“I returned around 7.30 and found that the entire village had disappeared,” he said. Several other survivors and residents from nearby villagers said over 300 people lived in Malin village. The taluka chief of the Shiv Sena’s Minority Cell, Mohd Tamboli, said,”The population of the village and three nearby hamlets was 702. There were 500 voters in all. I fear the number of dead could be over 200.”