PIX: 3,000 people rescued in Sikkim
More than 3,000 people were rescued in quake-hit areas of Sikkim by defence forces which scrambled hard to clear debris of collapsed structures and landslides as the death toll in Sunday's powerful temblor shot up to 92, including 53 in the Himalayan state.
Of the 53, 36 people died in the districts of North Sikkim, 12 in East Sikkim, four in West Sikkim and one in South Sikkim, a Relief Control Room official said in Gangtok.
The National Highway 31-A from Mangan to Gangtok, was closed due to blockades caused by heavy landslides but an alternative road was reopened to help rescue teams reach the worst-affected areas.
A correspondent who went around some of the quake-hit areas in and around Mangan found people in a state of shock, many afraid to enter their houses which have developed cracks, tilted perilously or partially collapsed.
"If there is another tremor, my house will collapse. So we are waiting out in the open," said 74-year-old Dengji Sherpa surrounded by his family and villagers at Lachan.
Some others were seen trying to retrieve household goods from the debris. The toll in Sunday's 6.8 magnitude strong earthquake has mounted to 92. Besides 53 in Sikkim, the toll has gone up to 12 in West Bengal, nine in Bihar and 11 in Nepal.
There was no change in Monday s figure of seven deaths in Tibet.
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Image: Soldiers load relief material for earthquake victims onto a plane at the Hindon air force station on the outskirts of New Delhi
13 helicopters have been pressed into service
As aftershocks continued, people were seen squatting on roadsides, public places and near temples. Using helicopters, heavy lift transport aircraft and infantry troops, defence forces rescued more than 3000 people in the quake-hit areas of Sikkim and intensified efforts to extricate people trapped under the debris of collapsed structures.
The Indian Air Force has airlifted more than 500 troops there, including the medical and engineering teams and is conducting sorties of heavy lift transport aircraft and choppers from Delhi, Chandigarh, Kolkata and Bagdogra to ferry troops and ensure supply of medicines and food.
"There are eight to 13 helicopters which have been pressed into service in conjunction with the Air Force. Thirty-five heavy engineering plant equipments have been deployed to restore roads and communication lines," Deputy Director General of Military Operations Brigadier Ranbir Singh said in New Delhi.
Rescue efforts covering 62 villages and 20 medical centers have been set wherein over 370 people have been treated and 8 relief centers have been established where over 2,700 people have been provided shelter.
On rescue efforts in Mangan, epicenter of the quake, he said, "Two-hundred and eighty one troops have reached Mangan, including four medical and two engineering teams. A relief camp has been established there and communication teams are working to establish telephone lines."
Twenty medical centers have been set up in the quake-affected areas in Sikkim and 11 cook houses to provide relief. A bus carrying 22 people which went missing in north Sikkim since the temblor struck was yet to be traced.
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Image: Schoolboys stop to look at a crack running down a road following the earthquake in Gangtok
'The biggest challenge is to get the rescue teams to the worst-affected areas'
A spokesman of the 17 Mountain Division said the bus could be anywhere in a radius of 10 and 15 km along the quake epicentre Mangan and Chungthang and that efforts have been stepped up to track it.
With some improvement in weather, relief and rescue operations by Army and National Disaster Response Force personnel picked up in the afternoon.
"The biggest challenge now is to get the rescue teams to the worst-affected areas," said Sikkim Information Minister C B Karki.
For the second consecutive day, food packets and medicine pouches were airdropped in inaccessible areas of the mountain state and round-the-clock work is on to clear debris and open roads still blocked due to quake- triggered landslides.
District collectors are overseeing the work. The earthquake has left a trail of devastation cracking roads, damaging houses and other structures, uprooting mobile phone towers and snapping communication and power lines.
Power and telephone lines have been restored in Gangtok. But the fringe areas of the town are still without power and are cut off from the rest of the world.
The IAF has also flown sorties of AN-32 aircraft from Jorhat and Delhi and have airlifted around 4.5 tonne of medicines, Principal Director Operation (Transport and Helicopters) Air Commodore A Raghvendra said.
"So far we have conducted 16 sorties of transport aircraft, 18 helicopter sorties and have airlifted 23 tonne of load and 500 personnel to Bagdogra," he said.
A senior Army officer said that in next few days, the operations would concentrate on opening other major roads in the state including Nathu La and in Gangtok which have been affected by landslides.
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Image: Young monks walk past a damaged house after the earthquake in Gangtok
Mamata extends a helping hand to Sikkim
At Lachung, a remote area, three injured persons were airlifted to Gangtok for treatment.
As rescue operations gained momentum, Union Home Secretary R K Singh said the number of casualties may rise as relief workers reach far-flung quake-hit villages.
Sikkim DGP Jasbeer Singh said information about several places in North Sikkim was still sketchy as there was no or little connectivity with roads blocked and communication lines snapped.
"We are getting a very sketchy picture about Chungthang, Lachun and Lachen. The casualty figure is ikely to increase after we get access to these areas and find out the extent of damage," he said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today met her Sikkim counterpart Pawan Kumar Chamling in Gangtok and offered him all assistance to meet the situation arising out of Sunday's quake.
"Sikkim is our neighbouring state and we stand by the people of Sikkim at this hour of crisis with all sorts of assistance to help them tide over the situation," Banerjee told reporters after the meeting.
Image: Debris of a residential building is seen after the earthquake in Lumsey near Gangtok