Forty-six bodies had been recovered till rescue operations were suspended for the night on Sunday after two Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) buses were struck by a massive landslide triggered by incessant rain on the Mandi-Pathankot National Highway-154 around 12.20 am. The mudslide swallowed a 150-metre stretch of the road, homes and vehicles, including the two buses that had stopped at a kiosk for refreshments. “As per the last communication with the driver, the bus (to Manali) was packed to capacity,” Transport Minister GS Bali told a TV channel. Sources said an HRTC AC bus (HP-63-5840), on its way from Manali to Katra with 10 passengers on board, was swept away near Kotrupi village (adjacent to Urla) in Padhar sub-division, 35 km from Mandi town. Three passengers died on the spot. The rest were hospitalised.
Another HRTC bus (HP-73-4423) coming from Chamba was thrown 1,000 metres down the road. It was completely buried. AN Salaria, Divisional Manager, HRTC, said this bus was carrying 50 passengers. Despite heaps of muck impeding rescue operations, Army personnel and a team of the National Disaster Response Force are on the job. Eyewitness Sanjiv Kumar said he heard some victims crying out for help as a bus halted mid-way on the disaster site. But it was struck by the debris again and buried completely. “Owing to the muck and pitch darkness, we could not come to their rescue,” he said regretfully. Locals told officials they vacated their homes and fled towards the forest area minutes before the landslide. “A few boulders started rolling down. Sensing trouble, we ran towards the forest area and managed to save ourselves,” a survivor said. She said her house was washed away and her livestock had perished. Locals said similar landslides had been witnessed in the area in 1977 and 1997 . Officials said 46 bodies had been dug out so far and 23 had been identified.
14 of the deceased have been identified as Suresh Kumar of Panjoti village in Mandi, Babu Ram of Udhampur, Pawan Kumar of Fati Bari in Manali, Khub Ram of Jana village in Kullu, Kartar Chand of Kunshal village in Baijnath (Kangra), Subhash Singh and Sagar Singh of Kathua in J&K, Mandeep Singh of Karangbag in J&K, Ajay of Punjab, Suruchi Thakur of Jimjima (Jogindernagar), Neha Khadun of Sarkaghat, Vinod Kumar of Gumma Padhar, Chandan Sharma of Bagla village in Mandi and bus driver Sunny Kumar of Tikri village in Jogindernagar. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh visited the disaster site with his Cabinet colleagues and announced an ex gratia of Rs 5 lakh each for the next of kin of those killed.
The Mandi district administration has closed the Mandi-Aut section of the Chandigarh-Manali highway. In a notification, the district administration has advised people to take the Mandi-Kullu route via Kalota.The Jogindernagar-Mandi section of the Pathankot- Mandi National highway has also been closed.