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Thursday, September 23, 2021

‘She screamed saying a big part of the hill had crashed. Then phone got disconnected’

In one of the worst tragedies of the rainfall lashing the state for the past three days, the village lost at least 42 people, with 39 still missing as of Saturday evening. Six of the injured are in hospital.

Written by Vallabh Ozarkar | Mahad (raigad) |
Updated: July 25, 2021 7:21:21 pm
A rescue worker with an infant in Kolhapur, Saturday. (Express photo)

Relatives looking for their loved ones made a beeline for Taliye village in Mahad, Raigad district, Saturday, breaking down as they sorted through what remains of the more than 50 houses either buried under a hillock or washed away. In one of the worst tragedies of the rainfall lashing the state for the past three days, the village lost at least 42 people, with 39 still missing as of Saturday evening. Six of the injured are in hospital.

The toll across the state climbed to 112, with Raigad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Satara, Sangli, Kolhapur, Mumbai suburbs, Pune and Thane among the worst-hit. A government statement said 59 people are still missing, with 38 injured. Rescue teams have evacuated 90,000 people so far and six relief camps have been opened in Ratnagiri.

Chiplun and Khed towns in Ratnagiri are completely inundated due to discharge from the Koyna and Koltewadi dams. The cellphone network is down and many areas are still without electricity. However, water levels have started receding.

Most of the ones searching through the debris at Taliye live and work in nearby cities, including Mumbai, and made it to the area battling bad weather and blocked roads. Of the village’s population of 242, around half migrate for work.

The bodies of 33 people recovered on Friday had to be all buried, with cremations difficult in the absence of dry wood. On Saturday, nine more bodies were recovered.

Many family members attacked the authorities, accusing them of not ensuring rescue or help on time. “Officials reached 24-36 hours after the incident. Had rescue started immediately, the casualties would have been less. Several survivors were without food and water till Friday night, when some snacks were provided,” said a resident of a neighbouring village lending a hand with the relief operations.

Baban Sakpal ran out just in time with his three sons on Thursday evening, after noticing part of the nearby hillock sliding. Two of his houses are completely gone, he said. “It was raining heavily and I came out around 5 pm hearing people shouting. I saw the hill crashing and I immediately told my sons to come out.”

With all their household items lost, Sakpal said they had been struggling for food and water for two days, with no official reaching them for over 24 hours.

Vijay Pande, who was at work at the time of the landslide and hence got saved, lost his whole family of six, including a five-month-old boy, 10-year-old daughter, his wife and parents and sister.

Pande’s sister-in-law Karishma Kondalkar said, “I spoke to my sister Reshma on Thursday morning and she told me it was raining heavily. In the afternoon, she called another relative who stays in Pune and told the person the soil was slipping due to the rainwater. Then she screamed saying a big part had crashed. The phone was disconnected after that, and we could not reach any of them.”

Karishma’s uncle Yashwant Kondalkar and his wife, who lived besides the Pandeys, are missing and believed to be dead. Their son survived.

Amol Kondalkar, who got married just a few months ago, lost his entire family, including his wife, parents and sister. He himself was in Pune on work.

The sarpanch, Sampati Prakash Chandrakar, also said the authorities reached late, adding, “Around 4.45 pm we saw a small amount of mud coming down from the hill. The few villagers who spotted it alerted others. People gathered at one spot, but then all of it came crashed suddenly.”

John Mhaske from neighbouring Mhaske vadi village, who has been helping with rescue and relief, said, “At night, we looked through the debris to see if anyone was alive, and at 2:30 am, found Swapnil Shiravale. He is now admitted to J J Hospital.”

Raigad District Collector Nidhi Chowdhury said they didn’t expect the destruction at Taliye as the village was not in its list of 110 landslide-prone and flood-affected villages. “A geological study was done of landslide-prone areas and nine high-risk and 11 moderate-risk villages were identified. Taliye was not on either list… Since such an incident had never taken place at this village, this was not expected.”

In badly hit Satara and Ratnagiri districts, 21 bodies were recovered, six of them members of the same family. People from the affected villages were moved to relief camps. The situation in Kolhapur was better than on Friday.

Services have been restored on the Konkan Railways. Rajiv Singh, Chief Engineer, Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, said work to restore the road link to Goa is also on at full swing. “The approach bridge over river Vasishti was washed away. It will be ready for light vehicles by Sunday morning.”

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray visited Taliye Saturday to take stock of the situation and meet families of the victims. He said the tragedy showed the need for proper “water management”, adding that the Centre had provided the state all the help it needed.

Guardian Minister Aditi Tatkare said a plan would be finalised to rehabilitate villagers living in dangerous conditions in the Sahyadri mountain ranges.

with ENS inputs from Mumbai, Pune

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