Rescuers scramble to save dozens trapped by landslide in north-east India

At least 16 people were killed after mud and stones buried a railway yard construction site in Manipur state

A member of India's National Disaster Response Force at the landslide in Noney district, Manipur state. EPA
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Rescuers in north-east India were trying to save dozens of people trapped by a landslide after pulling 13 soldiers and five civilians alive from the debris on Friday.

The landslide in Manipur state on Wednesday buried an under-construction railway yard under tonnes of debris, killing at least 16 people. More than 50 are missing, including workers and members of the Territorial Army ― a volunteer Indian army reserve force ― who were protecting the site from insurgents in the region.

It was unclear what triggered the landslide but authorities said that days of heavy rain had loosened the soil in the hills around the site.

More than 400 people are involved in the rescue operations, including special teams from the Indian Army, while earthmoving equipment is being used to clear the debris to reach those trapped.

Rescuers use excavators to clear debris after a landslide hit a railway yard in Manipur's Noney district. EPA

“Troops of Indian Army Assam Rifles and Territorial Army continued the rescue operations throughout the day in spite of inclement weather. Teams from Indian Railways, civil administration, NDRF, SDRF [national and state disaster response forces] and locals of Noney district are also actively contributing in the search," the Indian Army said.

The state's chief minister, N Biren Singh, visited the area to assess the situation on Thursday and announced financial assistance for families of the dead and injured.

"We hope to complete the search and rescue operations within two to three days. The soil is so soft that hardly any movement is possible. Heavy rescue machinery cannot pass through," he said.

The debris from the landslide has blocked the Ijai river, creating a reservoir and triggering fears of a flood in low-lying areas, authorities said.

Residents were asked to evacuate the area in anticipation of the flood because the state is still experiencing heavy rain.

Rain also triggered a landslide in Pauri in Uttarakhand on Thursday, blocking a road used by pilgrims to Hindu shrines at Kedarnath and Badrinath.

One pilgrim was killed and five others injured a day earlier when a landslide hit their vehicle on another route to Kedarnath.

Meanwhile, the death toll from flooding and landslides in the north-eastern state of Assam rose to 159 with eight more deaths reported on Thursday.

Nearly three million people have been affected in 2,000 villages in the state. The situation in several towns and cities is critical, with residents trapped in their homes without food, drinking water or medicines.

Heavy rain and flooding in neighbouring Bangladesh, which lies downstream, has claimed more than 40 lives since May 17.

The north-east region has been in the grip of heavy monsoon rains after a heatwave across much of northern India set summer temperature records in many areas.

But India's overall monsoon rainfall in June was 8 per cent lower than average because of scanty rain in the central region, the India Meteorological Department said.

It forecast normal rainfall of between 94 per cent and 106 per cent of the average for July.

The rains in July are crucial because they account for 35 per cent of the monsoon rainfall and are significant for India’s agriculture during the planting season for crops such as paddy, maize, cotton, and soybeans.

However, the rice-belt states of West Bengal, Odisha, coastal Kerala and Karnataka and the central Vidharbha region of Maharashtra will experience below normal rainfall, the weather office said.

Incessant rain in Mumbai, Maharashtra's main city, caused waterlogging in several low-lying western areas on Friday.

The city's train and bus services were disrupted and two buildings collapsed, although the residents were moved out in time.

Updated: July 01, 2022, 1:44 PM
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