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India landslide toll up to 51

Officials say 100 missing, chances of their survival thin

By MANISH MEHTA The Associated Press

This article was published August 1, 2014 at 3:03 a.m.

rescue-workers-stand-on-the-bank-of-a-river-as-they-look-for-bodies-after-a-major-landslide-in-malin-village-in-pune-district-of-western-maharashtra-state-india-on-thursday

Rescue workers stand on the bank of a river as they look for bodies after a major landslide in Malin village in Pune district of western Maharashtra state, India, on Thursday.

MALIN, India -- Heavy rains hampered efforts this morning by hundreds of rescue workers digging through mud and debris, as the death toll from a landslide that engulfed an entire village in western India rose to 51.

Rescuers were still looking for about 100 people missing and feared dead, after another 10 bodies were pulled out of the debris overnight.

"We have reached the main inhabited area and are continuing efforts," district official D.D. Kale said today.

Kale said the bodies of 22 women, 23 men and six children had been recovered.

More than a day after the Wednesday morning landslide, authorities said the chances of survival were slim for anyone still trapped under the mud in Malin, a village of about 700 people in the Pune district of Maharashtra state.

Suresh Jadhav, a district official, said about 40 homes were wiped out.

Two days of torrential rains triggered the landslide and continued to pound the area as rescuers took bodies covered in soaked white sheets to ambulances while relatives watched, weeping. Bad communications, dangerous roads and debris delayed national rescue personnel from reaching the stricken area for several hours Wednesday.

The disaster came to light only when a bus driver passed by and saw that the village had disappeared under masses of mud and earth.

"The driver returned to a nearby city and alerted authorities," Jadhav said.

Less than a dozen people were pulled out alive, rescue official Suresh Yadav said. Those rescued included a mother and her 3-month-old son whose cries caught the attention of rescue workers Wednesday.

Pramila Lende, the mother, said she was feeding the baby when she heard the roar of rocks and mud hurtling down the hillside.

"I started running with my child but a heap of mud landed on my body," she said. She kept the baby in an area with breathing space until his cries were heard, she said.

Suresh Dhonde, who was working in another town when the landslide ripped through his village, said only two people managed to get out of his house alive.

"The other six are buried under the mud," he said.

Crowds of people from nearby areas were helping rescuers, using their hands to move fallen trees and rocks. About 250 disaster response workers and at least 100 ambulances were involved in the rescue effort, officials said.

Rescuers expected the death toll to rise in the village at the foothills of the Sahyadri Mountains.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi mourned the loss of lives and said all possible efforts must be made to help the victims, according to a statement from his office. He sent Home Minister Rajnath Singh to the disaster area.

Landslides are common in the area during the monsoon season, which runs from June through September. The area around the village has been deforested extensively, increasing its vulnerability to landslides. Similar deforestation and environmental damage have caused floods and landslides in other parts of India.

On Thursday, heavy rains hit a remote mountainous village in northern India and killed five people, said Amit Chandola, a spokesman for the state government. At least two houses were destroyed in the Tehri district in the hilly Uttarakhand state, Chandola said.

Last year, more than 6,000 people were killed as floods and landslides that swept through Uttarakhand state during the monsoon season.

A Section on 08/01/2014

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