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Sikkim quake toll 116, 400 tourists stranded

Last updated on: September 21, 2011 19:54 IST

Rescuers yet to reach worst-hit Sikkim villages



Twenty more bodies were recovered in quake-hit Sikkim, taking the toll in Sunday's powerful 6.8 magnitude temblor to 116, amid reports that 400 foreign tourists were stranded in the worst-affected north district.

The toll is likely to go up further as rescue teams still haven’t reached about 15 villages in the north district.

While the toll rose from 53 to 73 in Sikkim, West Bengal has reported 12 deaths, nine in Bihar, 11 in Nepal and seven in Tibet.

Officials said rescue teams found six bodies in East Sikkim and 14 in North as they managed to enter Dzongu from Mangan, the headquarters of North Sikkim, where the strong quake was epicentred.

Nearly 400 foreign tourists were stranded in North Sikkim and efforts were underway to reach them, a Union home ministry official said.

Defence forces struggled hard to clear mud, rocks and boulders blocking roads to reach the affected areas.

In Lalchung, injured and stranded passengers of a bus were rescued in an army helicopter in a daring operation as there was no place to land.

Two brigadiers jumped down nearly seven to 10 feet from the chopper to save the passengers, one of whom was seriously injured while another had died. The passengers were helped into the hovering aircraft.

North district alone accounted for 50 deaths, while 18 people died in East district, four in West and one in South district. Over 300 people were injured, the sources said.

Image: Army personnel work to clear a road blocked by landslide, which was caused by Sunday's earthquake, at Mangan village
Photographs: Reuters

Sikkim quake toll 116

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Rescue teams which include personnel of the army, National Disaster Response Force and local people, would have to clear at least 30 to 40 major roads blocks created by debris of landslides to reach nearly 15 major villages.

In Gangtok, Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling said the loss from the devastating quake was estimated to be around Rs one lakh crore and sought a special relief package from the Centre towards rehabilitation work.

He said it would take another two to three days to reach all the remote villages of North Sikkim. "Nine villages are still totally inaccessible in that area," he said.

District collectors have been asked to reach Mangan, Lachen, Lachung and Chungthan, rendered inaccessible by the landslides, immediately by air as more bodies are feared to be trapped in under quake debris.

An official release in Gangtok said roads to Namchi and Jorethang in South Sikkim have also been reopened. Geyzing in West Sikkim is now accessible by road.

The other arterial roads in West and South Sikkim have also been partially opened and light and emergency vehicles are reported to be plying, it said.

Thirty five tourists, including two from Norway, were airlifted by the army on Wednesday from Lachung village, among the worst-hit areas in Sunday's quake. Sixteen injured people were also ferried from the village, an army officer said.

Image: A man sits amid the rubble of a building which was destroyed by Sunday's earthquake at Rangrang village
Photographs: Reuters
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The traumatised tourists, some of whom were wounded, were airlifted from Ringzim helipad.

Paljor Lachungpa, who is coordinating the evacuation, said Lachen was still cut off and more tourists could be airlifted from Chungthang.

Bishnupriya Dutta, a housewife from Bhubaneswar who was touring Sikkim with 8 family members, including two children, said, "Our car was shaking violently and the driver said is a big earthquake ... We were all terribly scared."

The family has been staying at the army camp at Bichhu for the past three nights.

"On way here today I saw a large number of houses damaged and the roads had caved in. I thanked God,'' she said.

The Centre has constituted an inter-ministerial team to visit Sikkim to take stock of the damage caused by the quake.

"The Centre has constituted an inter-ministerial team to visit the affected places in the state and give its recommendations for assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund," a home ministry official said in New Delhi.

Over 700 houses have collapsed and another 500 substantially damaged, he said.

A total of 5,500 Army personnel have been deployed for rescue and relief operations.

Sixty villages have been physically covered by the team of Army jawans in their search and rescue operations.

Two teams of 30 Army Jawans each with RMOs are located in Mangan and Chungthan. Thirty sorties have been done by helicopters provided by the ministry of defence for airdropping and reconnaissance.

Food packets have been airdropped in the northern part of the North district at Myang, the official said.

An aerial survey was carried out by officers of the state government and National Disaster Response Force on Wednesday to identify and list the affected villages.

The road between Mangan and Chungthan, where 16 landslides have been reported, has been opened up to 12 km further north of Mangan.

The Border Roads Organisation and Army Engineers are working for restoration of different roads.

Image: People sift through the rubble of a church, which was destroyed by Sunday's earthquake, at Rangrang village
Photographs: Reuters
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Sikkim has 15 sub-stations of 66 kilowatt, out of which six were down. Three have been restored. All the transmission lines and sub-stations of power grid have been restored.

Power supply is normal except in the northern part of North district. Landline and microwave links are operational.

Sufficient stock of essential commodities such as foodgrains, petroleum products and LPG are available in the state, the official said.

The home ministry has dispatched 1,000 blankets, 400 extendable tents and 200 arctic tents to the affected areas, he said.

Home Minister P Chidambaram will visit the quake-hit areas on Thursday and take stock of the relief and rescue work.

Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Thursday made an aerial survey of North Sikkim, besides visiting an affected village and a hospital.

Accompanied by the Sikkim chief minister, he landed at the army helipad in Libing near Gangtok. He then visited Lumsey, a residential pocket, and interacted with injured victims at the Central Referral Hospital, Manipal.

"We have no idea of the condition in villages like Sakyong-Pentong, Bey which are in forested areas beyond Dzongu," a senior official said in Mangan.

The villages in Sikkim are scattered and there is only one major highway connecting Mangan to Dzongu.

The rescue operation was also hampered by intermittent rains, he said.

The rescuers also assisted people who had walked for two days through hilly terrain and dense forests to reach Mangan from Dzongu.

Some of the people of Mangan were upset with the visiting media for focussing more on tourists and ignoring locals.

One of them, W Bhutia, said, "You (media) people are only interested about what happened to tourists. They receive the best of services from hotels. Nobody bothers to take note of what is happening to poor people like us."

Image: A man stands in front of his house, which was damaged by Sunday's earthquake, at Mangan village
Photographs: Reuters
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Army officials said a 8-10 km stretch at Tung, which is 16 km off Mangan, had caved in, impeding rescue operators from reaching worst-hit Chungthang.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has expressed his condolences over the deaths and destruction caused by the recent earthquake in Sikkim and other parts of northeastern region.

He has offered his prayers for those affected by the natural calamity and also donated Rs 5 lakh from the Dalai Lama Trust towards relief work in the affected areas.

"I was saddened to learn about the loss of life and damage to property that the recent earthquake has caused across isolated Himalayan regions, particularly in Sikkim. I offer my sympathy and condolences to all those families, who have been directly affected by what I understand is one of the worst earthquakes in recent memory," the Dalai Lama said in a letter to the Sikkim chief minister.

Two houses in Kalimpong and Mongpo in the Darjeeling hills, where Nobel laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore penned some of his memorable poems, were damaged during the earthquake that rocked Sikkim.

Official sources said that the ground floor at the back side of ‘Gauripur Niwas’ in Kalimpong, where Tagore lived in the mid-1930s, collapsed during the temblor while several cracks have appeared in many other parts of the building.

The house, bearing a marble tablet about the Nobel laureate's stay, was in bad shape in the absence of proper maintenance.

The single-storey Rabindra Bhavan at Mongpo, where Tagore stayed for several months towards the end of his life, also developed cracks in the right frontal portion due to the quake, they said.

Tagore penned some of his great poems here between 1938 and 1940 including "Janmadin"

Priceless Tagore memorabilia is preserved in the house which is now a museum, including a mahogany desk and his bed.

GJM president Bimal Gurung said the damages would be brought to the notice of the state government for proper action as the house is a heritage building.

Image: Workers try to salvage items from a supply truck loaded with cement bags after it was damaged by a landslide caused by Sunday's earthquake
Photographs: Reuters
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