Romen Phukan, 35, still can’t believe he is alive.
Haunted by the screams for help after the landslide hit their camp in Manipur last week, he recounts how the horror unfolded – and that he saw his friend die in front of him moments after he saved his life.
Mr Phukan was among the 80-odd men who were at the site of the incident on Wednesday night, when a catastrophic landslide washed away their camps in Tupul in Noney district, burying those at the site under boulders and mud.
At least 37 people have died in the disaster.
A construction labourer from Assam’s Morigaon, Mr Phukan is now under treatment at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal with multiple injuries, along with dozens others rescued after the landslide.
He has worked for past five years for a private construction company engaged by the Railways to build the 111-km Jiribam-Imphal rail link, a mega project of the central government.
“It was a normal night – until the earth moved,” he recalls.
“We were watching a film and slept after midnight. We were in deep sleep but woke up to the earth shaking – like an earthquake. Soon, the hill came crashing down. There were mud and boulders. Our camps were submerged and everything was washed away into the river – even people,” says Mr Phukan, who had returned to the work site four months ago from Assam.
“I was buried under the mud. But somehow, I managed to remove mud and catch my breath,” he tells NDTV.
The water level in the river was rising and people were screaming for help. “They screamed ‘bachaao bachaao’, but no one could help another,” he says.
“I was saved 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 faded.”
Mr Phukan was rescued by the villagers the next morning.
Around 25 of the victims, including the dead and the injured, were from Assam and the state government is working towards airlifting the bodies and the injured labourers back to the state. Assam cabinet minister Pijush Hazarika is overseeing the treatment of the injured.
Landslides are common in the hills, says villagers in Tupul who were the first responders after Wednesday’s landslide. But an entire hill crashing down is something they had never seen.
“This is the biggest landslide ever. We have not seen anything this big ever. We, the locals, with whatever we have, dug people up from the mud,” said Kumar Khumba, a local youth who is helping in the rescue operations.
Besides the search for landslide victims, dead and alive, rescuers from the Army and Territorial Army jawans are also looking for automatic weapons, arms, and ammunition in the area, sources said.