India rescuers hunt for survivors as landslide toll hits 125


As many as 68 others were missing after heavy rains lashed India's western coast, causing landslides on July 23, 2021. - AFP

MUMBAI, July 24 (AFP, Reuters): Rescuers in India combed through mud and debris Saturday (July 24) in a desperate search for survivors as the death toll from multiple monsoon-triggered landslides climbed to 125, according to officials.

Maharashtra state is being hit by the heaviest rain in July in four decades, experts say.

Downpours lasting several days have severely affected the lives of hundreds of thousands, while major rivers are in danger of bursting their banks.

In Taliye, about 180 km southeast of the financial capital of Mumbai, the death toll rose to 42 with the recovery of four more bodies after landslides flattened most homes in the village, a senior Maharashtra government official said.

“About 40 people are still trapped. The possibility of rescuing them alive is thin as they’ve been trapped in mud for more than 36 hours,” said the official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to talk to the media.

As many as 68 others were missing after heavy rains lashed India's western coast, causing landslides that buried dozens of houses in hard-hit Raigad district, south of Mumbai.

"Forty-three people have died in three landslides in the district... Rescue operations are continuing", Sagar Pathak, a disaster management official in Raigad, told AFP.

Villages in low lying areas inundated after heavy monsoon rains in Ratnagiri, district of Maharashtra, on July 22, 2021. - AFPVillages in low lying areas inundated after heavy monsoon rains in Ratnagiri, district of Maharashtra, on July 22, 2021. - AFP

Fifty-three people were missing, he said, with many feared trapped under layers of mud following the accidents.

Earlier on Friday, state government spokesman Anirudha Ashtaputre told AFP that two others had died in Satara district due to landslides.

Elsewhere in the state, up to 15 people were also missing, according to state authorities.

The Navy, Army and Air Force sought to evacuate people stranded by flooding, but their operations were hampered by landslides blocking roads, including the main highway between Mumbai and Goa.

Water levels rose to 3.5 metres on Thursday in areas of Chiplun, a city 250km from Mumbai, following 24 hours of uninterrupted rain that caused the Vashishti river to overflow, submerging roads and homes.

Maharashtra state's chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said emergency workers were struggling to reach cut-off neighbourhoods in Chiplun, because of damage to roads and bridges there.

“Around 90,000 people were rescued from flood affected areas,” the Maharashtra government said in a statement, as authorities released water from overflowing dams.

The Navy deployed seven rescue teams equipped with rubber boats, life jackets and lifebuoys to the affected areas, along with specialist divers and a helicopter to airlift marooned residents.

India's meteorological department has issued red alerts for several regions in the state, indicating that heavy rainfall will continue for the next few days.

People use their phones to take pictures of a collapsed building following rains in Mumbai, on July 23, 2021. - ReutersPeople use their phones to take pictures of a collapsed building following rains in Mumbai, on July 23, 2021. - Reuters

Flooding and landslides are common during India's treacherous monsoon season between June and September, which also often sees poorly constructed buildings and walls buckling after days of non-stop rain.

Four people died before dawn on Friday when a building collapsed in a Mumbai slum, authorities said.

The incident came less than a week after at least 34 people lost their lives when several homes were crushed by a collapsed wall and a landslide in the city.

Thousands of trucks were stuck for more than 24 hours on a highway linking Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, with the road submerged in some places.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was in anguish over the loss of lives.

“The situation in Maharashtra due to heavy rains is being closely monitored and assistance is being provided to the affected,” Modi said on Twitter on Friday.

Rainwater also inundated a water purification complex last weekend, disrupting supply "in most of the parts of Mumbai", a megacity of 20 million people, civic authorities said.

Climate change is making India's monsoons stronger, according to a report from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) published in April.

The report warned of potentially severe consequences for food, farming and the economy affecting nearly a fifth of the world's population.

Indian environmentalists have warned that climate change and indiscriminate construction in fragile coastal regions could lead to more disasters.

“The rain fury that lashed Mahabaleshwar...is a strong warning against any more tampering with the ecologically fragile Western Ghats,” environment economist Devendra Sharma said on Twitter referring to the range of hills along India’s west coast.

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