Pune landslide toll reaches 25, 160 still trapped

Pune, July 30  At least 25 people were killed and over 160 remain trapped under a hillock which crashed on a village near Pune early on Wednesday, district officials said. With barely six structures, including the village panchayat office, left intact, the bustling Malin village of about 50 homes, about 120 km from here, has been wiped off the state’s map.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told media persons that with about 160 people remaining trapped, the toll can go up. Chavan, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar besides cabinet colleagues Harshvardhan Patil and Madhukarro Pichad Wednesday visited the accident spot.

A 300-strong team comprising National Disaster Response Force, Maharashtra Disaster Response Force, police, villagers and political activists braved inclement weather, searching for people trapped under stones, boulders and sticky mud. In New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed anguish over the tragedy while Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh is expected to arrive in Pune Wednesday evening and visit the site Thursday morning.

Earlier on Wednesday, police official Vinod Pawar told media persons the accident occurred in the village located in Ambegaon taluka of Pune at about 5 a.m., as heavy downpour loosened earth and dislodged rocks and boulders. Eyewitnesses claimed the landslide may have occurred at about 7 a.m. as a driver of a state transport bus passing through failed to find the village which was his regular service stop.

Heavy rain, which lashed the picturesque region over the past four days, continued to hamper relief operations whole day and prevented rescuers from approaching the site, as flowing water kept shifting the mud. An army team was sent from Pune, said Nationalist Congress Party legislator and assembly Speaker Dilip Walse-Patil in whose constituency the accident occurred.

At least 50 ambulances have been rushed from nearby towns while an entire ward has been kept ready at the Sassoon Hospital, Pune, about 120 km from the site. District officials said people in about half-a-dozen other villages in the hilly neighbourhood are being evacuated as a precautionary measure. Besides the Pune tragedy, heavy rain resulted in landslides on the Mumbai-Goa highway, the Central Railway tracks between Mumbai and Nashik and in Thane, severely hitting road and rail traffic.