Hopes faded on Wednesday of finding five people who went missing after a massive landslide buried on Sunday several dozen vehicles and blocked a section of a major highway near Armenia’s border with Georgia.
A search and rescue operation launched by the Armenian Ministry of Emergency Situations has yielded no results so far. Officials said it has been seriously hampered by a persisting danger of another landslide that could be caused by the use of heavy machinery.
“Geologists and seismologists are working together to determine the firmness of the ground. That’s very important to us,” Emergency Situations Minister Armen Yeritsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Speaking at the scene of the natural disaster, Yeritsian said that the rescuers tried to locate the missing persons, two of them Georgian citizens, through mobile phones but to no avail.
Armen Ghularian, governor of the northern Tavush region encompassing the landslide-hit area, confirmed reports that relatives of the missing have complained about what they see as a slow pace of the rescue efforts. He said he met and assured them that the authorities are doing their best to find their loved ones.
“I can understand those people. They have lost their loved ones,” said Ghularian.
Of 35 vehicles reportedly buried by a wave of mud and rock only 11 cars and four trucks were unearthed as of Wednesday evening. The cars were retrieved with the help of military helicopters that were sent to the area on Tuesday.
The rescuers used railroad cranes to pull out the other, much heavier vehicles. “Only railway cranes could pull them out,” said Levon Hakobian, deputy director of the national rail network.
The landslide, which followed heavy rain, submerged a 200-meter section of Armenia’s main highway leading to the Georgian border. Its reopening will take more time than initially thought.
Workers were repairing on Wednesday a nearby rural road bypassing the blocked highway section. Officials said that heavy trucks will not be allowed to use the temporary bypass.