Landslides kill 30 in India's Darjeeling tea region

Landslides kill 30 in India's Darjeeling tea region
PHOTO: AFP

TINGLING, India - Rescuers were digging through piles of debris to search for survivors after landslides triggered by heavy rain killed at least 30 people across India's famed tea-growing region of Darjeeling, police said Wednesday.

Some half a dozen people were feared trapped under mounds of mud at the remote Tingling tea estate in Mirik area where rescue teams were struggling to reach those buried.

With bulldozers and other heavy land-moving equipment unable to reach the remote areas, rescuers were using bare hands and some basic tools to remove the debris, an AFP photographer at the scene said.

Overnight landslides also struck homes built on slopes in Kalimpong and Darjeeling in West Bengal state, leaving a trail of destruction in the scenic region.

"Rescuers have so far found 30 bodies - 17 in Mirik, 11 in Kalimpong and two near Darjeeling town," Darjeeling district police superintendent Amit P Javalgi told AFP by telephone.

Some 2,000 persons have been evacuated from the sites of landslides with more army reinforcements expected.

The tourist season in Darjeeling district, which is known for its lush green tea plantations, ended with the onset of the annual monsoon rains and those stranded are mainly villagers in remote hilly areas.

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.

West Bengal police inspector-general Anuj Sharma said from Kolkata that he feared "many people" were caught in the landslides which, along with the heavy rains, have also cut roads and telephone links.

Photos showed small bridges washed away or destroyed, leaving residents stranded.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said junior home minister Kiren Rijiju was being rushed to Darjeeling to review the situation.

"Deeply pained at the loss of lives due to the landslides in Darjeeling district. Condolences to the families of the deceased," Modi tweeted.

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.

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