Landslide

1100
mountain-collaps

There was an enormous rush, something like a tornado hitting a building. I could feel the earth trembling, amid the thunderous crash from somewhere not far away from our adjacent lodge. I had a premonition that something terrible had occurred. Seized with fear, I dashed out of my lodge. The other occupants were rushing out too, all seemed to be in a daze. We were dumbfounded by what we saw. There were heaps of soil, rocks and trees covering a stretch of the mountain slopes where a number of lodges had been before. Our lodge was a mere 30 metres way from the landslide. It was a close shave for us. Before the rescuers came, we rushed to the ill-fated site and frantically dug in the rubble in the hope of reaching the survivors. Residents from other nearby lodges joined us. However, it was a futile effort. When the rescuers came, they warned us to stay away as the site was dangerously unstable with more landslides feared. They then launched an immediate full-scale search for those buried under the rubble.

Like the others, I had come to this resort of Thredbo in Australia for a holiday. The tiny village is a popular ski resort for the locals as well as foreign tourists. It is situated in the Snowy mountains, some 400 kilometres south of Sydney. I had a hectic day of skiing with my friends. We were resting in our lodge before the incident happened. I learnt that this was the first time a landslide had ever occurred here. By now it was well past midnight and the temperature had dipped below freezing point. Rescue workers used arc lights to search for survivors. "There are no signs of life at all, but there is still hope," remarked a rescuer. "There were cries that we could hear in the beginning, but after some time there was silence. Initially we could also hear anti-theft alarms for cars beneath the rubble."

The rescue workers formed a human chain and went through the twisted ruins of the lodges. However, they were unable to use earth-moving equipment for fear of more landslides. The search and rescue work was intensified the next morning. Unofficial reports claimed that as many as 20 people had been buried in the landslide. The work of picking through rubble had been fraught with danger and hazards such as leaking fuel from crushed cars. It was estimated that the rubble was about 20 meters deep. Search crews had to shove up the site as they worked to prevent a further slide. After 15 hours of work, they had found only two bodies. Someone reported sighting the foot of a third body, picking through the debris. It turned out to be a bag of potatoes. By the evening of the second day, frustrations began to show on the faces of the rescuers.

Police said the chance of freeing the remaining victims from the tons of collapsed concrete, twisted metal, dirt and splintered trees was almost nil. By now friends and family of the victims had gathered at Thredbo to pray for a miracle. "We do not want to give them a false hope," said a rescue spokesman. "I am certain that they understand the impossible task that is facing us. Our work is also hampered by the fact that many of the victims are trapped under a massive weight of concrete and the instability of the slope, which has forced rescue workers to painstakingly cut the slabs into pieces before removal. Even optic fibre cameras and thermal imaging equipment used in the search operations have failed to show signs of life in the wreckage. We are no longer putting a time limit on the rescue effort."

It is believed that seepage from a mountain spring might have caused the earth to give way, sending tons of dirt, rocks and trees crashing into the lodges. Police informed that those who were buried in the rubble included a middle-aged couple from California, a New Zealand tourist and 17 Australians. Meanwhile, messages of sympathy poured in from around the world to the small, close-knit community of the Alpine village of Thredbo.