Four more bodies were recovered Thursday before falling boulders and rocks forced the rescuers to suspend the search operations for victims of the landslide in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district.
The fresh recoveries took the toll to 14 while 16 people are still missing, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur informed the state Assembly after visiting the landslide site near Chaura village on the National Highway 5 in the Nigulsari of Nichar tehsil.
Rescuers had recovered 10 bodies on Wednesday before suspending the operation around 10 pm. On Thursday, the rescue work being carried out jointly by the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), ITBP, Himachal Pradesh police and Home Guards, resumed at 4am. They recovered four bodies and also found the mangled parts of Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) bus buried under debris nearly 300 meters downhill from highway.
The rescuers pulled back after loose rocks began falling at the site at about 11.30 am. The operation was resumed after half an hour, before again being suspended. With darkness falling, the search for 25 to 30 people believed still missing was unlikely to resume until Friday.
State Disaster Management Director Sudesh Kumar Mokhta said a Bolero car, feared buried under the rubble, could not be traced.
The HRTC bus was on its way from Reckong Peo to Haridwar via Shimla when it was hit by boulders after the landslide around Wednesday noon. CM Thakur said the driver had stopped the bus there, seeing falling stones. Several vehicles had stopped behind it.
As boulders started falling at the site where the vehicles were stationed, the driver, conductor and two other passengers who alighted from the bus saved themselves by taking shelter under a rock. They were later rescued. They could not see what happened to other vehicles as it became very dark around the area, the CM said.
The bus was crushed under the rubble and its pieces were found scattered here and there, he added.
Thakur said the it was very difficult to complete the rescue work manually. He said five of the 13 rescued were at admitted at Bhawanagar community health centre (CHC) while one has been referred to Hamirpur and another to the IGMC in Shimla.
Meanwhile, President Ram Nath Kovind spoke with Thakur and Himachal Governor Rajendra Arlekar. “I was told that all steps are being taken to bring the affected people to safety. My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and I wish speedy recovery of the injured,” Kovind tweeted.
Meanwhile, in a video clip on social media, a rescuer working at the site near the mangled remains of the bus is heard saying that the vehicle was found by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) 17th Battalion. Another rescuer says gloves should be brought for continuing the rescue operation.
In a touching Facebook post in Hindi, Lokendra Singh Vedic, a resident of Shimla, said his father’s body has been found but “rescuers are yet to find his head”.
CM Thakur met the kin of the dead and family members of those missing, assuring all possible help from the government. He said the state government will provide Rs 4 lakh each to the next of kin of the dead and Rs 50,000 to those seriously injured. Rs 1 lakh will be given to the kin of the dead bus passengers by the Transport Department, he said, adding that free treatment will be provided to the injured.
The CM said the state government will also conduct a geological survey of the area.
Earlier, a two-minute silence was observed in the state Assembly to pay homage to those who died in the landslide. Urban Development Minister Suresh Bhardwaj told the Assembly that CM Thakur, along with Industries and Transport Minister Bikram Singh, has gone to the spot to take stock of the rescue work.
Bhardwaj said the landslide occurred at a place where people usually stop for sightseeing and take photographs.
The state government had requisitioned four helicopters for rescue work on Wednesday but they could not reach the site due to bad weather, he added.
Senior Congress leader Asha Kumari said Leader of the Opposition Mukesh Agnihotri, Rampur MLA Nand Lal and Shimla Rural MLA Vikramaditya Singh have also gone to the spot.
Expressing grief, CPM MLA Rakesh Singha said the factors that cause such landslides should also be examined.
The dead have been identified as Rohit Kumar (25), a resident of Kaiya village at Rampur in Shimla; Vijay Kumar (32) of Jhol village in Sujanpur of Hamirpur ; two-year-old Vanshuka of Sapni in Sangla of Kinnaur; Meera Devi, Nitisha, Prem Kumari , Gyan Dassi, Devi Chand (53), Kumari Radhika (22), Bhupender (29), all from Kinnaur; Kamlesh Kumar (34) of Rechuta village in Solan and Lakshman Thapa (19), who hails from Nepal and currently living in Theog, Shimla.
One dead person is yet to be identified, Disaster Management Director Mokhta added.
(With PTI inputs)