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A massive landslide buried two Himachal Pradesh roadways buses, killing at least 34 people and injuring several others at Kotpuri near Padhar on the Mandi-Pathankot national highway today, officials said. The toll was likely to rise further as over 50 passengers were travelling in the two buses hit by the landslide, which was triggered by a cloud burst, they said. "Thirty-four bodies have been recovered, and of these 14 have been identified," an official said. Teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), the Army and the police were rushed to the spot and heavy earth- moving machinery deployed at the gorge where the two buses lay buried under a heap of debris. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh visited the spot and said the rescue operation would continue till all the bodies were recovered. He said that eight passengers were travelling in the Manali-Katra bus, of whom three lost their lives, while five were rescued and taken to the zonal hospital in Mandi. There were around 47 passengers in the second bus which was on its way from Manali to Chamba, an official said. The chief minister said the state government would bear medical expenses of the injured.
He also met the bereaved family members and expressed condolences. Health Minister Kaul Singh Thakur, Transport Minister G S Bali and Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister Anil Sharma also reached the spot. Thakur announced financial assistance of Rs 4 lakh each to the next of kin of the deceased, while Bali announced that Rs 1 lakh would be given to each bereaved family by the HRTC. The massive landslide, covering an area of more than 250 metres, swept away two other vehicles also and damaged some houses. The highway was closed and hundreds of vehicles were stranded on either side, officials said. D D Sharma, Director, Disaster management, Himachal Pradesh government said that lighting arrangements had been made to continue the operations during the night. He said a team of forensic experts had also been called considering that several of the bodies were mutilated.