Raigad :- A day after a hillslip flattened the ill-fated Taliye village near Mahad in Raigad, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray visited the site, met the few survivors and with folded hands, attempted to wipe their tears.
Hopping onto a chopper from Mumbai for the short flight to Raigad, Thackeray later drove down to the village, where he was accompanied by Ministers Eknath Shinde (Shiv Sena), Vijay Wadettiwar (Congress), Aditi Tatkare (Nationlist Congress Party) and her father Sunil Tatkare, the local NCP MP, and other top officials.
En route, he grimly took in the scenes of the massive havoc wreaked by nature’s fury in the past three days in the coastal Konkan and western Maharashtra.
The entire region reeks of disaster, destruction, deaths of humans and animals, stench of the fast-rotting remains, razed fields and farmlands, spelling doom for the dazed people wondering how to pick up the threads afresh for their future.
“We have lost everything except the clothes I am wearing I have lost my entire 6-member family in the hillslide,” wept one of the lucky survivors, a woman, Archana, aged around 35.
She was consoled by a similarly orphaned teenaged girl, Sandhya, from the now-erased Taliye village, who miraculously escaped the thousands of tonnes of sticky wet earth, boulders, stones, tree clumps, bushes and water as a 60-70 meter tall portion of the hillock crashed early on Friday.
Of the total 35 single or double-storied homes standing in the once bustling village, 32 have practically disappeared and so far there have been around 50 deaths and an equal number feared missing.
Another middle-aged man, dug out from the slush and was rushed to a Mahad hospital, had horror writ on his face – “We had not time to escape. There was a rumbling sound and in seconds, our landscape and the world changed,” he said.
One survivor, Mahendra Pol said with moist eyes that his entire family escaped the disaster and managed to flee to safety while most of his neighbours and friends were killed.
Thackeray gave patient hearing to the villagers and the survivors, and assured that the entire village would be redeveloped and resurrected, with full help to the locals who lost everything.
He also said that there are many villages in such potentially dangerous locations which would also be shifted to safer areas to prevent such tragedies in future.
“You please take care of yourself, leave everything else to us. We are with you and the government will ensure full help for your complete rehabilitation,” Thackeray assured the weeping villagers, many of whom are yet unable to accept the changed scenario.
Shortly afterwards, Housing Minister Dr Jitendra Awhad made the welcome announcement that the Taliye village would be fully rebuilt from scratch by the Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority.
NDRF and SDRF teams are continuing the digging operations to rescue possible survivors or bodies, with intermittent rains still lashing the region, and extricated a nine-year old girl from the slush on Saturday afternoon.
During Thackeray’s visit, a sudden heavy shower swept the area, and he grabbed an umbrella to speak to the survivors and the local media.
He also told the villagers not to bother about their identification papers and other important documents which have been lost, assuring that everything would be replaced.
The Taliye mishap reminded many of a similar hill-slip that wiped off the Malin village of Pune district in the morning of July 30, 2014, shocking the nation. While 151 were killed, just 38 survived, including 8 who were outsiders visiting the village and were stuck owing to torrential rains.
Though deforestation has been attributed as the prime cause in both Malin and Taliye catastrophes, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said on Saturday that the latter (Taliye) was not in a landslip prone area and the culprit was the torrential downpour that inundated Mahad and surrounding hilly areas.
As rains took brief respite, small groups of villagers visited Taliye, huddled in disbelief at the sight, controlling emotions of grief, anger and sheer helplessness at the monumental tragedy.
Against their usual smiling pals or friendly neighbourhood folks, all they witnessed are remnants of broken pots and pans, destroyed household furniture or fittings, chunks of ruined walls of erstwhile cheerful homes, the metal or concrete sheets of roofs, with no signs of life.