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Raigad: Irshalwadi hillslide toll mounts to 16; 22 rescued, 80 still trapped

Raigad: Working non-stop for nearly 20 hours, rescue teams have recovered 16 bodies and saved 22 injured persons, who were crushed when a portion of a 550 mt hillock crashed on a large part of the Irshalwadi tribal village near Khalapur in Raigad district late on Wednesday night, officials said here on Thursday.

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The 1,500-strong rescue teams comprising fire brigades, sniffer dog squads, SDRF, NDRF and even mountaineering experts have been working since 1 a.m. to dig out at least another 80 still feared trapped under the sludge and debris.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and several of his ministers rushed to the tragedy spot — located around 100 km from Mumbai — to monitor the situation, while Deputy CM Ajit Pawar was stationed at the State Disaster Management Centre.

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The Shiv Sena (UBT)’s Leader of Opposition Ambadas Danve, Aditya Thackeray, state Congress President Nana Patole and other leaders have also visited the spot and offered all cooperation to the government and the locals.

According to state government officials, the disaster occurred at around 11.45 p.m. on Wednesday when the region was lashed by torrential rains.

A portion of the 550 mt tall hillock — under which the tribal hamlet is nestled — suddenly crashed on Irshalwadi, crushing an estimated 30-40 hutments and trapping the residents living in them.

According to Pawar, the Irshalwadi village population was 228 of which more than 100 people have been affected by the tragedy.

On learning of the disaster, Raigad district administration and the police rushed to the spot and launched a massive rescue operation at around 1 a.m. even as rains continued to batter the region.

The hilly terrain with huge boulders and stones hampered the rescue teams who could work only with hammers, spades and taslas (ghamelas) to dig out the people, as the clock ticked away.

On Thursday morning, Shinde reviewed the situation and in view of the difficulties encountered in the hazardous terrain as cranes, JCBs and other equipment could not be taken there, said that two helicopters will be deployed for the rescue mission.

However, though one IAF chopper was kept ready for the mission, it could not be deployed as it would have been unable to land or take-off in the treacherous terrain due to the stormy weather conditions.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah called up Shinde and took details of the tragedy, and also offered any type of help the state government may require.

Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis said that the rescue operation is being hampered on various counts, but all efforts are underway to save the people trapped in the slush and stones.

The President of Akhil Maharashtra Giryarohan Mahasangh, Umesh Zirpe, said that around 60 mountaineers have joined the search and rescue operations through the Maharashtra Mountaineers Rescue Coordination Centre (MMRCC).

“This 550 mt hill with the Irshalgad Fort is a popular trekking point and the ill-fated Irshalwadi village is situated just below the rocky cliffs that crashed,” Zirpe told IANS from Pune.

The cause of the disaster is believed to be some 50 cm rainfall that pounded the region since Monday, officials said.

On Thursday afternoon, Shinde trekked for over 90 minutes to reach the devastated village site, and later Danve also reached there.

The government has announced a compensation of Rs 5,00,000 to the kin of each deceased and treatment at government expense for those injured in the calamity.

Some of the bodies recovered so far include Ramesh H. Bhavar, his wife Jaishree (22), son Rudra (1), and nephew Vinod B. Bhavar (4).

In view of the hazards of bringing down the bodies from the top, the rescuers completed the relevant formalities and buried some of the deceased in a nearby clearing.

Meanwhile, due to incessant rains and darkness falling, the rescue teams called off the day’s search operations, which will resume at daybreak on Friday.

The IMD has issued Red or Orange alerts for the districts of Raigad, Palghar, Thane, Mumbai, Ratnagiri and Sindhdurg till Saturday as rains continued to pound the coastal regions since Monday.

The tiny automobile-free hill-station of Matheran, around 120 km from Mumbai, had received the highest rainfall — over 40 cm — in the past three days, as per the IMD.

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