Shimla, Aug 13 (IANS): At least eight persons were killed and over 40 missing in a massive landslide that swallowed a 150-metre stretch of road, and buried homes, two buses and vehicles in Himachal Pradesh's Mandi district early on Sunday, officials said.
The landslide occurred around 12.20 am on the Mandi-Pathankot highway near Kotropi village in Jogindernagar tehsil when two Himachal Road Transport Corporation buses were stationed at a kiosk on the highway for refreshments.
"As per the last communication with the driver, the bus (to Manali) was packed to capacity," state Transport Minister GS Bali told a news channel. Over 40 passengers were on board the bus headed to Manali from Chamba at the time of the disaster. The bus rolled down 800 metres below the road and is under a huge mound of debris.
Mangled remains of the second bus bound for Katra in Jammu were retrieved. Three of the eight persons on the bus died.
Locals told the administration that they vacated their homes and ran towards the forest area minutes before the entire mountain dislocated and slid down.
"A few boulders started rolling down just ahead of the disaster. Sensing trouble, we all ran towards the forest area and managed to save ourselves," a survivor said. She said her house was washed away in the mudslide and the livestock perished. The area has been witnessing heavy rains.
A search and rescue operation is on involving local authorities, the Army and the National Disaster Response Force. So far, five persons have been rescued and admitted to Zonal Hospital in Mandi town. The disaster site is about 220 km from here.
A more than 150 metre stretch of the road was washed away in the mudslide.
Rescue workers were finding it difficult to retrieve the remains of the Manali-bound bus. "The exact number of missing persons is yet to be assessed," an official told IANS.
State Revenue Minister Kaul Singh announced an ex-gratia of Rs 4 lakh to the next of kin of those killed.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and Leader of Opposition Prem Kumar Dhumal have rushed to the spot.