By late evening, 20 bodies were recovered from the mound of mud and debris that came down from a nearby hillock, swallowing up almost the entire tribal village of around 50 families. Officials said 20 seriously injured people were rescued from the debris.
Only four houses survived the landslide as the inmates ran to safety the moment the debris started falling. A temple and a primary school were among those flattened by the landslide.
At the village, there was no sign of human life. The land where the village stood till 7.30 am had turned into a mound of mud as a part of the nearby hillock gave way in a matter of seconds. The faces of the deceased were disfigured beyond recognition, officials said.
Frequent spells of rain hampered the rescue and relief operations. What compounded the problem was the presence of a huge crowd and hundreds of vehicles, apparently volunteers from across Pune who had rushed to the site on hearing the news of the tragedy. Vehicles were stuck for a good 10 km with ambulances not able to wriggle out of the traffic mess.
Assembly Speaker Dilip Walse-Patil, who is the local MLA, was among the first to reach the site. The village, which is in the Sahyadri ranges, is located in Ambegaon taluka of the district. It is located on an elevation near the catchment area of Dimbe dam.
Due to the remoteness of the village, the tragedy came to light only when the driver of the first state transport bus reached the village a little after 7.30 am to find it wiped out. The driver returned with the vehicle to Manchar city and alerted the authorities. It was after this that the district administration woke up and started the relief and rescue operation. National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) personnel also reached the site by afternoon.
Additional District Collector Ganesh Patil said, according to the initial information, the landslide occurred around 7.30 am. There were 44 to 50 houses in the village. Each house had at least four persons. Therefore, 160-170 people are trapped under the debris. We have been able to extricate 20 bodies and at least 20 seriously injured persons, he said.
Officials, however, said the possibility of the toll mounting steeply cannot be ruled out as the villagers were stuck deep in the mud and frequent spells of rain were hampering rescue efforts.
Patil said the district collectorate learnt about the incident only around 9 am. Due to the remoteness of the village where there is no mobile connectivity, it took time for the information to reach us. He said more than 100 ambulances had been pressed into service. Many got stuck in the traffic mess, we asked some of them to return to ease the traffic chaos in the area, he said.
Ganesh Bhausupe, of the neighbouring Asane village, recounted how a portion of the hill came down all of a sudden. It was around 7.30 am when we felt the ground beneath our feet shaking. We heard a deep rumble and then rushed to Malin only to find the village vanishing, he said.
Bhausupe, whose village is situated around 2 km from Malin, and his friends came down to some distance to call their local zilla parishad member Sanjay Gavari, who also mobilised relief and rescue operation. When we reached the spot, we were shocked to find the entire village flattened. We pulled out at least seven villagers who were at the edge of the mound of mud. They were alive and breathing hard. They were taken to the nearby public health centre, he said.
Bhausupe said the four houses that survived the landslide were situated a little distance away from the other houses in the village. They told us that they ran after they heard the rumbling from the hillock. At least one villager who was working in the nearby farm came back and broke down when he found that his family had disappeared in the mud, he said.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan along with Tribal Development Minister Madhukar Pichad and Co-operative Minister Harshavardhan Patil also reached the spot. Pichad told The Indian Express that he too had lost relatives in the landslide.
As the news of the tragedy spread, members of the local tribal rights organisation Shaswat also rushed to the village. Ganesh Londhe, a member of Shashwat, recounted how they came across a scene of complete destruction in the village.
The village had three pucca houses, including the primary school but all were destroyed. Only the tip of the local Maruti temple was visible, but that too crumbled in front of us, he said.
Figures show that in the past few days, Ambegaon had received around 147 mm rainfall. With Sahyadri ranges running across the area, landslides have been a common occurrence in this part of the district, but this was the first time a landslide of this magnitude was recorded. Local resident Mohammad Tamboli said last year the neighbouring village of Kolthawadi had also witnessed a landslide but no casualty was reported.
- PARTHA SARATHI BISWAS & MANOJ MORE