At least 46 people were killed in a massive mudslide that swallowed a 150 metre stretch of road, and buried homes, two buses and vehicles in Himachal Pradesh's Mandi district on Sunday, officials said.
Forty-six bodies were recovered and five injured rescued in a day-long operation, a government spokesperson told IANS.
"We believe that most of the bodies have been recovered. Rescue operation was stopped during night as there were chances of more mudslides. But it will resume in the morning," the spokesperson said.
He added 23 bodies were yet to be identified. Body of one biker was also recovered from the debris.
The mudslide occurred around 12.20 a.m. on the Mandi-Pathankot highway near Kotropi village in Jogindernagar tehsil, 220 km from here, when two Himachal Road Transport Corporation buses had stopped at a kiosk on the highway for refreshments.
"As per the last communication with the driver, the bus (to Manali) was packed to capacity," Transport Minister G.S. 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 was traced under a huge mound of debris, an official said. He said bodies of 42 passengers travelling in this bus were retrieved.
Mangled remains of the second bus bound for Katra in Jammu were retrieved totally. Three of the eight persons on the bus died.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled the deaths.
"Pained by the loss of lives due to landslide related accidents in HP's Mandi district. My condolences with the families of the deceased," Modi said in a tweet.
Governor Acharya Devvrat also expressed grief.
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 for the past one week.
A search and rescue operation was mounted by local authorities, the Army and the National Disaster Response Force.
Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who visited the spot along with his cabinet colleagues during the day, announced an ex-gratia of Rs 5 lakh to the next of kin of those killed.
Leader of Opposition Prem Kumar Dhumal also visited the spot.
Describing the development "an unprecedented tragedy", the Chief Minister said the rescue operation would continue until the last body of the victims was recovered.
He directed local civil authorities to assess the loss to the property at the earliest so that the sufferers could be adequately compensated.
Virbhadra Singh also met bereaved family members and expressed his heartfelt condolences.
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