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Dozens killed as landslide sweeps buses off road into gorge

DHARAMSALA, India -- Soldiers and rescue workers in northern India pulled out 45 bodies from two buses buried in mud from a landslide that was triggered Sunday by heavy monsoon rains.  

The French news agency AFP quoted district official Sandeep Kadam, who had been at the scene of the disaster all day, as confirming the death toll and adding that the "search operations will continue."

The landslide in Urla village in Himachal Pradesh state buried part of a highway, swept the two buses down the side of a steep gorge and buried two cars and a motorbike, said Kadam.

With the road blocked by landslides in several places, soldiers used shovels and pickaxes to remove rocks, boulders and debris covering the buses and pull out the bodies.

Rescue efforts were also hampered by intermittent rain, said Ashok Sharma, a police officer who was at the site.

Sharma said one of the buses as buried under almost 50 feet of mud.

It was not immediately clear how many people were traveling in the buses, Kadam said.

Indian army personnel and rescue workers search for survivors amid the rubble after a landslide caused by a cloudburst swept two buses off the road into a gorge, in Mandi district, in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, India, on Sun., Aug. 13, 2017. Reuters

Dozens of houses were washed away in the torrential rain that hit the Mandi region in the Himalayan foothills.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted his condolences: "Pained by the loss of lives due to landslide related accidents in (Himachal Pradesh's) Mandi district. My condolences with the families of the deceased."

Landslides are common in the area during the monsoon season, which runs from June through September.

The area around the village has been deforested extensively, increasing its vulnerability to landslides. Similar deforestation and environmental damage have caused floods and landslides in other parts of India.