KOLKATA (AFP) - Landslides triggered by heavy rain killed at least 21 people across India's famed tea-growing region of Darjeeling, with more feared trapped under mounds of mud and debris, police said on Wednesday.
Rescuers were digging through tonnes of sludge searching for residents after overnight landslides struck homes built on slopes in the towns of Mirik, Kalimpong and Darjeeling in West Bengal state.
"Rescuers have so far dug out 13 bodies in Mirik, five bodies in Kalimpong and three bodies in Darjeeling town," Darjeeling district police superintendent Amit P Javalgi said.
"At least 15 people are missing in Kalimpong," he told AFP.
Supt Javalgi described mud and water barrelling down hills in the worst-hit tourist town of Mirik along with Kalimpong hill station further north.
"We have reports of over 100 houses getting washed away in these two towns and many people were evacuated from the sites," he said.
"The rush of mud and water tore down everything in its path in Mirik and Kalimpong."
He said border guards were being deployed to help with the rescue effort which was being hampered by ongoing rains in the district.
"Rescuers are digging through mud and rubble as the landslides buried scores of houses in Mirik and Kalimpong," he said.
West Bengal police inspector-general Anuj Sharma said from Kolkata that he feared "many people" were caught in the landslides which, along with heavy rains, have also cut roads and telephone links.
Photos showed small bridges washed away or destroyed, leaving residents stranded.
Darjeeling district, a tourist attraction known for its lush green tea plantations, is some 600km north of Kolkata.
Floods and landslides hit South Asia every year during the monsoon season.
In the western state of Gujarat, floods caused by the annual rains last week left at least 55 people dead.