Romen Phukan, 35, still can’t believe he’s alive.
Haunted by the cries for help after the landslide hit their camp in Manipur last week, he recounts how the horror unfolded – and how he saw his friend die before his eyes shortly after saving his life.
Mr Phukan was among around 80 men who were at the scene of the incident on Wednesday night when a catastrophic landslide washed away their camps at Tupul in Noney district, burying them at the site under boulders and mud.
At least 42 people died in the disaster.
Mr Phukan, a construction worker from Assam’s Morigaon, is currently being treated for multiple injuries at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal, along with dozens of others rescued after the landslide.
He has worked for the past five years for a private contractor contracted by the railway to build the 111 km Jiribam-Imphal railway, a central government mega-project.
“It was a normal night – until the earth moved,” he recalls.
“We watched a movie and slept after midnight. We were sound asleep but woke up to the ground shaking – like an earthquake. Soon the hill fell down. There was mud and debris. Our camps were flooded and everything was washed away into the river – even people,” says Mr Phukan, who returned to the site from Assam four months ago.
“I was buried under the mud. But somehow I managed to clear the mud and get my breath back,” he tells NDTV.
The water level in the river rose and people cried out for help. “They screamed ‘bachaao bachaao’ but nobody could help the other,” he says.
“I was rescued by my friend Gopal Phukan. He pushed me away from the water. But moments later he died in the mudslide,” he says. “As the water level rose, the screams died down.”
Mr. Phukan was rescued by the villagers the next morning.
Around 25 of the victims, including those killed and injured, were from Assam and the state government is working to airlift the bodies and injured workers back into the state. Assam Cabinet Minister Pijush Hazarika is overseeing the treatment of the injured.
Landslides are common in the hills, say villagers in Tupul who were first responders after Wednesday’s landslide. But they had never seen a whole hill fall down.
“This is the biggest landslide of all time. We’ve never seen anything that big. We, the locals, have been digging people out of the mud with everything we have,” said Kumar Khumba, a local youth helping with the rescue operations.
In addition to searching for landslide victims, dead and alive, Army and Territory Army rescuers are also searching for automatic weapons, weapons and ammunition in the area, sources said.