Death toll after landslides in Indian Himalayas rises to 57; 10 still missing

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Rescuers pulled out more bodies on Tuesday after landslides in India’s Himayalas over the weekend buried homes and buildings, killing at least 57 people and leaving 10 still trapped or missing, officials said.

Torrential rains, which, along with unabated construction have frequently triggered deadly flash floods and landslides in the mountains of India and neighbouring Pakistan and Nepal over the past few years, have been attributed to climate change.

The destruction from the landslides was severe in India’s Himachal Pradesh, where structures were swept away under rocks and falling trees, roads had caved in, and power and the railway network disrupted.

“The death toll could rise,” the northern state’s chief minister, Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu, told news agency ANI as he presided over a muted ceremony marking India’s Independence Day on Tuesday.

Three more bodies were pulled out on Tuesday from the site of a temple that collapsed after landslides in state capital Shimla, where 14 people were killed in rain-related incidents, said disaster management official Praveen Bhardwaj.

At least 55 people have died in the state due to the disaster, Bhardwaj said. Two people also died in neighbouring Uttarakhand state in rain-related incidents.

Television footage showed hundreds gathered at rescue sites as emergency workers and excavating machines removed tree trunks and mud.

“Two of my colleagues and their families are missing … We still have hope that god will perform a miracle and my colleague professor P.L. Sharma, his wife and son will be safely rescued,” Pusphpa Lata, a Shimla resident, told ANI news agency, in which Reuters has a minority stake.

Heavy rain is forecast to continue until Wednesday in parts of Himachal Pradesh and neighbouring Uttarakhand. Both states suffered widespread damage last month, too, due to incessant downpours, and have recorded 45% and 18% above-normal rainfall during this monsoon season that began June 1.

(This story has been refiled to make it clear that the heavy rains were attributed to climate change in paragraph 2)

(Reporting by Shivam Patel in New Delhi; Editing by Bernadette Baum)