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18 die, 17 hurt as landslide hits bus

- Mizoram orders probe to ascertain cause of accident

Aizawl, July 21: At least 18 persons died and 17 were injured when a landslide from a roadside quarry hit a night bus at Keifang village in Champhai district of western Mizoram on the Indo-Myanmar border, about 100km from this capital town, last night.

The bus, run by a Champhai-based private transport agency KZ Travels, was travelling from Champhai town to Aizawl. It had almost reached the end of this quarry around 1am when the boulders came crashing down, hitting the rear of the bus and pushing it over the deep gorge, survivors said.

Travellers along this road have often complained about the quarry, fearing landslides, but the authorities have failed to take action.

As news spread, people from nearby villages gathered at the site and started rescue work. At least five persons, a family of four (Dengthuama, 24, his wife Malsawmtluangi, 24, and their children Zothanmawia, 4, and Zomuanpuii, 3) and a man, escaped unhurt.

Seventeen persons died on the spot. They include the second driver, Johny Zonunmawia, 24, who was driving at that time, a medical representative from Silchar, Bablu Mazumdar, three members of a family, F. Rothangpuii, 70, Lalrammawia, 49, and Ramfangzauva, 49, from Champhai Vengthlang, Mizoram’s main trade hub along its border with Myanmar. The Young Mizo Association (YMA) arranged for a death certificate so that Mazumdar’s family could take his body back without delay.

Stephen Lalmuanpuia, 10, son of Malsawma, the main driver, died soon after being taken to the nearby Saitual rural hospital. His aunt Lalparvuli, who was waiting for his body at the hospital, said the rescuers had told them that he could reply to questions when they reached him.

The 17 injured were brought to Aizawl civil hospital, seven of them in a serious condition.

Eric Biakduhzuala, 8, had a miraculous escape. He suffered a severe head injury but is said to be recovering. Eric said he was not asleep when the bus got hit, slid down a few meters and perched precariously on a mound of mud.

“The bus fell over. Everyone was shouting and screaming. The driver shouted and told me to get off the bus and get help,” Eric said, adding that he somehow managed to get out through the door near which he was seated. He said another man managed to get out of the bus with him.

The plucky boy crawled out and as he was trying to move up, some stones rolled down and hit him on the head. But he continued climbing and reached the top where some passengers of a Sumo, which had been ahead of the bus, were looking down. Just after that the loose earth gave way under the weight of the bus and the vehicle slid another 150 meters down the gorge.

Malsawma, 29, the main driver, said he was taking a nap, having handed over the steering wheel to the second driver, when a stone hit the roof of the bus, waking him up.

He said the bus went over the cliff after being hit by a massive landslide. “I remember it rolled three times. Then I lost consciousness. I came to when rescuers came to help us,” he said, while being given first aid at the civil hospital.

He is recuperating in hospital but has lost his son, who was returning to his school in Aizawl.

No one knows exactly how many people were in the bus when the accident occurred. Only 13 had bona fide tickets while the rest seem to have been picked up on the way.

Home minister R. Lalzirliana and transport minister P.C. Zoramsangliana, among other cabinet colleagues, and YMA leaders have rushed to the spot.

The state government has decided to order a magisterial probe into the accident. David L. Thangliana, deputy director of the state information and public relations department, told The Telegraph over phone that a notification regarding this would be issued.