A massive landslide triggered by a cloudburst killed forty-five people in Mandi district of Himachal Pradesh, an official said.
The landslide, which took place around 1.15am, swept away a few vehicles, including two buses, shortly after Sunday midnight.
It also damaged a 100-metre patch of the Mandi-Pathankot national highway 154 at Kotrupi village of Padhar, 35 km from Mandi town.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was “pained by the loss of lives” due to the landslide.
Two Himachal Roadways buses were caught in the landslide. One of the buses was going from Manali to Katra and another from Chamba to Manali. The fate of the other passengers was not immediately known.
The buses had halted for a tea break at Kotrupi at night when the tragedy struck, said state special secretary (disaster) DD Sharma.
The landslide swept away the road and the buses for almost 800 metres down a gorge and there was no trace of one of the buses which was completely buried under the debris.
Two of the deceased who were travelling in the bus to Katra have been identified as Suruchi Thakur, a 22-year-old from Jimjima area of Jogindernagar, and Neha, a 23-year-old from Khadun village of Sarkaghat area of Mandi.
A male passenger from the Katra bus and four passengers in the Chamba-Manali bus are yet to be identified.
Mandi deputy commissioner Sandeep Kadam said rescue work was initially tough due to the rains. “It was massive. The road was washed away and rescue teams had to take a lot of precautions since the debris continued to slide,” he said.
Officials said the number of passengers in the buses could be around 50 as many people might have boarded en route. At least eight passengers were travelling in the bus going to Katra while nearly 50 passengers were in the other bus.
Around 120 army personnel and an NDRF team were involved in the rescue work along with police, home guard and fire brigade teams, officials said.
Prime Minister Modi, in tweets posted on Sunday, said he was “pained by the loss of lives due to landslide related accidents in HP’s Mandi district”.
“My condolences with the families of the deceased. I pray for the quick recovery of those injured in Mandi district,” Modi tweeted.
The Prime Minister said a team of the NDRF was going to Mandi to take part in the rescue and relief operations and provide all possible assistance.
Chief minister Virbhadra Singh said he will visit the spot to take stock of the situation. “Rescue is on. Police is there. Army has been called. Local people are also helping,” he said.
Director general of police Somesh Goyal said that as per preliminary information, there were eight passengers in the Manali-Katra bus while 47 were travelling in the other bus.
The authorities have been directed to arrange for on-the-spot postmortem examination, he said.
Ten people were rescued and taken to a hospital. People present on the spot said the rescue operation was affected by rains.
The bodies recovered included those of the driver and the conductor of the Chamba depot bus, Chanden Sharma and Satpal.
District administration officials are monitoring the situation.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi also offered his condolences. “My condolences to the families who lost their loved ones in Mandi. Request Himachal govt and local Congress units to provide all possible help,” Gandhi tweeted.
State health minister Kaul Singh Thakur, and rural development minister Anil Sharma also visited the spot.
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