Death toll from north-east India landslide rises to 20

It is the latest tragedy in a country that has been plagued by catastrophic rainfall and flooding in recent months. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI (AFP, NYTIMES) - Rescuers in India’s northeast have recovered 20 bodies from the site of a landslide that buried a railway construction camp, the army said on Friday (July 1), after a second day of search efforts.  

Security forces and disaster relief teams are still racing to rescue dozens more feared trapped under debris at the site of the incident in Manipur state.  Most victims were reserve soldiers from the Territorial Army who had been working on the railway project.

It is the latest tragedy in a country that has been plagued by catastrophic rainfall and flooding in recent months.

The extreme weather has destroyed communities, forced evacuations and threatened lives.

On Friday, rescue workers in Manipur were still looking for dozens of people, who were instantly buried under layers of mud and rocks overnight on Wednesday, when the landslide occurred in the Noney district.

Indian television stations showed rescue personnel carrying mud-covered bodies on stretchers.

Many of the people who died and those still trapped under the rubble had been in the area to work on the construction of a railroad station deep in the mountains.

Some were soldiers in the Indian army. Others were railway workers, local villagers and labourers.

"The entire country is deeply saddened by loss of lives," Mr Nongthombam Biren Singh, the Chief Minister of Manipur state, said on Friday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter that he had reviewed the situation in Manipur and had assured Mr Singh of "all possible support" from the central government.

"I pray for the safety of all those affected," he said. "My thoughts are with the bereaved families."

Weeks of heavy rainfall from the monsoons have already killed more than 100 people and left millions homeless in India's northeast and in neighboring Bangladesh.

More than 60 people were killed in May during days of flooding, landslides and thunderstorms that left many people without food and drinking water and isolated them by cutting off the Internet.

Tying climate change to an extreme weather event requires extensive scientific analysis. But climate change is often a contributing factor.

Scientists have said that India and Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable to climate change because of their proximity to the warm tropical waters of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, which are increasingly experiencing heat waves.

The rising sea temperatures have led to dry conditions in some parts of the Indian subcontinent and a significant increase in rainfall in other areas, according to a study published in January by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune.

In India's north-eastern state of Assam, one of the worst affected areas during the pre-monsoon and monsoon season, a paramilitary camp was inundated by floodwaters on Friday after persistent rain over the last three days.

The India Meteorological Department forecast heavy rainfall over the next 24 hours in at least 20 states, including Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland, all in the north-east.

The heavy rains also delayed flights and submerged roads in India's capital, New Delhi, on Thursday.

The Singapore Red Cross (SRC) is pledging $100,000 in humanitarian aid ($50,000 each) to the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS), to support ongoing relief efforts in Assam, India and Bangladesh, the humanitarian agency said in a press release on Friday.

The SRC's contribution will directly support the humanitarian response by the IRCS and BDRCS in immediate relief and future recovery operations.

Singapore Red Cross secretary-general and chief executive Benjamin William said: "We are gravely concerned about the safety and well-being of those affected. Millions have been displaced due to the unprecedented rainfall and flooding, as the monsoon storms continue to trigger landslides, submerge homes and destroy crops. We will work with our partners to ensure our immediate aid is channelled to where it is most needed."

The IRCS and BDRCS have response teams and volunteers assisting with the evacuation and immediate needs of the affected communities, in the provision of safe drinking water, shelter, health services, and distribution of relief items such as food items, tarpaulins, household kits and hygiene kits, in addition to conducting needs assessments on the ground.

The SRC remains in close contact with the BDRCS and IRCS to monitor the situation and see what more can be done, the press release said.

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